One of the first R&B groups to cross over to the pop charts, the Penguins did it in style with an enormously popular song.
The group started in 1954 with a group of young men who had attended Fremont High School in Los Angeles: lead singer Cleveland Duncan, tenor Dexter Tisby, bass Curtis Williams, and baritone Bruce Tate, all of whom were born in 1935. The doo-wop group took its name from the penguin symbol on a pack of Kool cigarettes.
In late 1954 the group recorded a song called Hey Senorita which was picked up by DooTone Records. The B-side of the record was Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) which turned out to be the hit. It went to #1 on the R&B chart, and crossed over to the pop chart late in 1954 -- unusual for the time -- where it eventually rose to #8.
It was still a common practice for white groups to record covers of R&B hits and watch them soar to success on the pop charts. That is what happened when the Canadian singing group the Crew-Cuts brought it to #3; it was the first of many top forty hits for them. Singer Gloria Mann also had a #18 hit with it in 1955. Writing credits for Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine) went to Jesse Belvin, Gaynel Hodge, and Curtis Williams. The Penguins' version sold four million copies on the DooTone label.
Buck Ram became the manager of the Penguins for a short time, but his primary interest was managing the other group that he would eventually take to prominence on the Mercury label, the Platters. The Penguins recorded for Mercury and also for Sun State and Atlantic, but they were never to have another hit record on the pop charts.
In later years Cleve Duncan, who had sang lead on the original Earth Angel (Will You Be Mine), would form revival groups of the Penguins to perform on the oldies circuit.
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