Mary Wilson Test Header

Earl ‘Speedo’ Carroll, beloved singer of New York-style vocal harmony in the 1950s, dies at 75

Carroll, who became a custodian at Public School 87 on the upper West Side in the 1980s, was known in the music world for more than five decades as one of the lead singers of the Cadillacs.

By / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

Monday, November 26, 2012, 12:56 AM

Earl “Speedo” Carroll, one of the most colorful and beloved singers of New York-style vocal harmony in the 1950s, died Sunday at a city nursing home. He was 75.

He had been in failing health for the past year, suffering from diabetes, a stroke and other ailments.

Carroll, who became a custodian at Public School 87 on the upper West Side in the 1980s, was known in the music world for more than five decades as one of the lead singers of the Cadillacs.

Their 1950s hits included “Gloria,” “You Are,” “Wishing Well,” “My Girlfriend,” “Peek-a-Boo” and one perennial holiday favorite, a jive version of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

Perhaps the group’s best-known song, however, was “Speedo,” which was inspired by Carroll’s nickname and on which he sang lead.

Its lyrics went:

“Well, they often call me Speedo

But my real name is Mr. Earl.

Now they gotta call me Speedo

Til they call off making pretty girls.”

Carroll explained in a 1994 interview that he got the nickname because “I always liked to take my time, do things at my own pace. Since I was a kid, the other guys would be telling me, ‘C’mon, hurry up, Speedy.’ ”

The Speedo persona followed him for the rest of his career, and he enhanced it with an oversized stage presence.

The Cadillacs themselves had a rotation of lead singers that made them one of the most versatile vocal groups of the 1950s. Their repertoire ranged from harmony ballads to uptempo novelty-style songs in the same vein as the Coasters.

In the movie “Go Johnny Go,” they lip-synched to two of their novelty tunes, “Please Mr. Johnson” and “Jay Walker.”

Born in New York, Carroll said he started listening to rhythm and blues groups like the Orioles and gospel quartets like the Soul Stirrers and Five Blind Boys before he was a teenager.

By the early 1950s he and three friends from the W. 131st St. and Seventh Ave. area of Harlem were singing together as the Carnations.

They rehearsed at PS 49 and often performed at local school dances. They were eventually spotted by Lover Patterson, a vocal group singer, while performing at PS 43.

Patterson introduced them to Esther Navarro from the Shaw Artist Agency and they signed a contract with Josie Records. They had to change their name because another group was already called the Carnations.

The Cadillacs soon set themselves apart as one of the first groups to wear flashy stage uniforms and put on a dance performance as well as a vocal show. They hired Cholly Atkins of the dance team Coles and Atkins to work up their choreography, and numerous other groups tried to imitate them.

The group had a tumultuous personnel history, though, at one point splitting into two separate outfits, and Carroll left in 1959.

He joined a new edition of the Coasters in 1961 and stayed with them for 20 years. But in 1979 he was asked to re-form the Cadillacs for a Subaru commercial, and after that ad became a national success he kept the group together and went on the road.

That group included Bobby Phillips, Carroll’s lifelong friend who had been in the original Carnations in the 1950s.

At the same time, in 1982, Carroll also took a day job as the PS 87 custodian.

He became a famous figure in the school, inspiring a book called “That’s Our Custodian” by Ann Morris.

Because of his job, the Cadillacs mostly performed on weekends, and he said it was fun to watch the reaction of students who knew him as “the guy with the mop in the daytime and the star on stage at night.”

He said he had also gone back to high school to get the diploma he missed in the 1950s when he dropped out to go on the road with the Cadillacs.

He retired from the school in 2005 and continued to sing with the Cadillacs until his health forced him to quit.

But his songs kept going.

“Back in New York in the ’50s,” recalled Dion DiMucci a few years ago, “one of the tests for any street-corner vocal group was whether you could sing ‘Gloria.’ If you could, you had a chance.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/music-arts/earl-speedo-carroll-dies-75-article-1.1207962#ixzz2DLCuT8zX

One Response to “Earl ‘Speedo’ Carroll, beloved singer of New York-style vocal harmony in the 1950s, dies at 75”

  1. Freddie Says:

    May he rest in peace.

© 1997-2013 MaryWilson.com | Private Policy

Mary Wilson's Blog is powered by WordPress v 3.8.4.