What killed Doo Wop

50th anniversary of Frankie Lymon's death - America's first black child pop star

From Laf overland

Historic advertisement of the band "The Teenagers Featuring Frankie Lymon" (imago / ZUMA / Keystone)

Initially, his business was the red light district. He was very young then. Just as early, long before his voice broke, he discovered music and became the frontman of the band "The Teenagers": Frankie Lymon. He sang divinely, but died early.

Frankie Lymon was the first black child pop star. He laughed kindly and mischievously and might as well have been one of the little thugs if he hadn't - at least he told the reporter for African American magazine a year before his death Ebony told - would have earned an extra income as a pimp at ten, which apparently no one among the newspaper people who knew Harlem of the fifties doubted.

Officially, however, with his work in the grocery store on the corner, he contributed to the upkeep of the five siblings who lived with their mother in the grandmother's apartment: And in the evenings the DooWop groups could be heard practicing their harmonies on the stairs to the houses until someone did Police called so the neighbors could finally sleep.

DooWop was the name of the music that you could make if you had no money for instruments: four or five-part a cappella harmony & rhythm vocal pieces that moved between swing jazz and rhythm & blues. And their lyrics, because you didn't always want to sing aaah and oooh; Consists of a jumble of nonsensical syllables: like oodly-pop-a-cow pop-a-cow pop-a-cow-cow or Eh-toom-ah-ta-toom-ah-ta-tom-ah-toh-doh - or just Doo Wop!

The first single shot straight to number one

The most amazing example of this DooWop music of the fifties was little Frankie Lymon: When he was twelve, he asked the four boys across the street whether he could sing along because playing bongo in his brother's mambokombo was not enough for him: these four - two Hispanics and two Afros - were much older than him - 15 and 16 - but that was when the band was born The teenagers! They were stunning, and when they got to record a single because of it, it shot straight up to number one.

Why Do Fools Fall In Love - why only fools fall in love: This hit was actually the love poem set to music that a neighbor's girlfriend had written for him - and therefore exactly the right material for a chart success with a young audience. And so it went on with the hits: soon the teenagers were part of the rock'n'roll circuit and toured with other big names through the United States and England, but their names were already there Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers: The fans flew to it like fruit flies on a cherry pie - which is why the band's record label boss came up with the idea of ​​tearing up the DooWop ensemble - because DooWop was ensemble music! - and to market little Frankie as a solo star.

By the age of 15 he had taken on the cool, sophisticated dance steps of show people like Sammy Davis Jr - just a tick faster! He was full of energy and perky - the word still existed back then - and cute, but as small as he was, he looked so grown up behind the grinning apple cheeks.

But the problem came - with the broken voice: the rousing child's voice turned into a meaningless tenor - sales fell.

He has been using heroin since he was 15

At 18, Frankie tried his hand at nightclub singing, switching record labels and comeback strategies. And from 1964 also the wives. He sang his heart out, recorded countless pieces, of which only a few were published.

And in the end the singer, who radiated pure joy on stage, broke not only under the greed of the music businessmen - but also under his own: at least the greed for heroin. Because he had been hooked since he was 15: a woman who was twice his age - like most of his friends - had hooked him.

And of course after the last of his withdrawal treatments it looked as if he had gotten the hang of it: on the evening of February 27, 1968, he was booked for a recording session for another comeback. But Frankie didn't show up. He was found on the morning of the 28th on his grandmother's bathroom floor in Harlem. He had given himself an overdose; the audience didn't really notice it anymore, but the New York Times had five paragraphs - on page 50.