Doo-Wop Concerts: How the Blues Subgenre Laid the Groundwork for R&B and Punk

The Moonglows backstage at the Apollo Theater, 1955. Photo Courtesy: [Donaldson Collection/Getty Images]

It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing. For decades, doo-wop music has been bringing smiles to people’s faces all over the world. The word doo-wop, which refers to a subgenre of rhythm and blues with roots in the 1930s and 1940s, is an expression more so than a specific reference to something.

Doo-wop music came about when Black American blues artists began to mimic the sounds of the string and reed instruments in their songs. Instruments were expensive and music lessons were hard to come by in the post-Depression United States. Replacing instruments with vocals that mimicked those sounds made a musical career path more viable for Black artists and enchanted the ears and bodies of those that listened.

A song that’s considered doo-wop will typically be sung by a group of people — a wide range of voices that starts low and ends high and are accompanied by little to no instrumentation. But the onomatopoeia of the term “doo-wop” is not the only fascinating part of the subgenre. Artists who fought tooth and nail to perform their music were treated with disrespect even after finding mainstream success. Here’s how doo-wop became an essential chapter in American history, civil rights, and pop culture at large.