Forever Doo-Wop: Race, Nostalgia, and Vocal Harmony

Forever Doo-Wop: Race, Nostalgia, and Vocal Harmony

by John Michael Runowicz
     
 

Music can be a storehouse for emotional, social, and cultural experiences that deepen and acquire greater value over time. This is a book about a particular genre of vocal harmony music called doo-wop that has accrued deep meaning and affective power among Americans since its inception in the aftermath of World War II. Although the first doo-wop singers were

Overview

Music can be a storehouse for emotional, social, and cultural experiences that deepen and acquire greater value over time. This is a book about a particular genre of vocal harmony music called doo-wop that has accrued deep meaning and affective power among Americans since its inception in the aftermath of World War II. Although the first doo-wop singers were primarily young black males in major American cities, it wasn't long before white working-class teenagers began emulating their rhythm-and-blues harmonies. The racial exchange of this distinctive genre and the social bonding it engendered have had a significant and lasting impact on American musical culture.

In Forever Doo-Wop, John Runowicz traces the history of this music from its origins in nineteenth-century barbershop quartets through its emergence in the postwar era to its nostalgic adulthood from the mid-1960s to today. The book is based on interviews he has conducted and observations he has made over the last twenty-two years working as guitarist, musical director, and second tenor with one of the legendary doo-wop groups, the Cadillacs, on what is popularly known as the "oldies circuit." As a graduate student, he broadened his research to include the wider doo-wop community.

Forever Doo-Wop invites readers to gaze through a window on our society and culture where certain truths are revealed about how white and black Americans coexist and interact, about how popular music functions as a vehicle for nostalgia, and about the role of music making over a long lifetime.

University of Massachusetts Press

Editorial Reviews

Choice

This volume places the doo-wop style in its rich cultural and social history.... Runowicz includes significant discussion of race issues and represents doo-wop as an important cultural phenomenon. Recommended.

Downbeat

Doo-wop is usually heard today only on period-piece film soundtracks or on late-night public television pledge drives, but the roots of the music, its cultural impact and the lives of its veteran performers should never be ignored. John Michael Runowicz is both an ethnomusicologist and a guitarist who worked alongside the harmony groups he investigated for this fascinating study. He provides a concise history of doo-wop as it emerged from gospel quartet singing to the commercial heights of the rock 'n' roll era. The book also delves into the racial issues surrounding the music, its cultural connotations and a musical analysis of the songs' key components. Runowicz draws on his interviews and first-hand observations as guitarist for The Cadillacs as they tour the oldies circuit to provide the sort of details that few other academics could obtain.

Generally Eclectic Review

Forever Doo-Wop is hardly your typical work on the subject. It is indeed, one of the few academically oriented books in the field, and the first to my knowledge that approaches the subject through the lens of ethnomusicology.... I find this to be the most fascinating and unique book on the subject of doo-wop I've ever come across, and I recommend it highly to anyone interested in American popular music history, whether a doo-wop fan or not.

American Music

Forever Doo-Wop brings to the literature a rich ethnographic perspective that situates a powerful contemporary account within the context of the music's rich history.

Doo-Wop Essentials

John was white, but he played guitar for the all-black Cadillacs and he wisely uses their story, particularly that of the late great lead Earl 'Speedo' Carroll to tell a larger one: As one of the first examples of unfiltered black music passing along to whites, the development of doo-wop couldn't help but mirror the development of the African-American civil rights movement. Runowiz, happily, writers a lot better than most guitarists, and he isn't afraid to make it personal. Not just essential to understanding doo-wop but essential to understanding race relations in America.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781558498242
Publisher:
University of Massachusetts Press
Publication date:
09/30/2010
Series:
American Popular Music
Pages:
224
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

What People are saying about this

Jeffrey Melnick

Forever Doo-Wop is really a pioneering work -- the first full-length analytical scholarly book on the entire range of doo-wop's history, from its roots in the late 1800 s to its modern iterations as a species of collective mourning for a lost/imagined past.

Robert Pruter

Runowicz strives to reveal and explain to larger America exactly what doo-wop is, from what cultural arena it springs, and what its musical value, importance, and legacy is. And he succeeds on all counts.

Meet the Author

John Michael Runowicz, who holds a PhD in ethnomusicology from New York University, is a professional musician and independent scholar.

University of Massachusetts Press

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