Cleveland Duncan, the lead singer of the Penguins, a doo-wop group best-remembered for the 1950s super-hit “Earth Angel,” has died in Los Angeles at age 77.
Although the group has never been featured on the GMC, I did find a connection — of sorts — to an earlier piece. It seems that the Penguins encountered the same kind of situation described in that piece — the white Canadian Crew Cuts recording a hit version of an R&B classic, which was a very common practice at the time. But in this case the Penguins’ version eventually became the biggest-seller, totaling over 10 million copies through the years.
The Penguins came together at a Los Angeles high school in the early 1950s when Duncan and Curt Williams — who was the nominal leader, even though Duncan was lead singer — filled out the group with Dexter Tisby and Bruce Tate. The guys soon found their way to a recording studio, and after a couple of false starts eventually issued a record of “Earth Angel,” a song written by Williams. (Or co-written, according to some sources.) It became a huge national hit, hitting the top of the R&B charts and even crossing over and making a strong showing on the pop charts.
The Penguins would continue to make records for a few years, but none approached the success of “Earth Angel” and the group eventually broke up. However, Cleveland Duncan didn’t give up. He made it his business to lead various reincarnations of the Penguins off and on through the years, and his fans could still find him performing at ‘oldies’ shows almost up until his death.