The Flamingos - Photo by the Public Domain on Commons.Wikimedia.org
You love flamingos, but do you love The Flamingos?
One of the greatest doo wop groups of all time derived its name from the fabulous fowl. The Flamingos - which went through the monikers of The Swallows, El Flamingos, and The Five Flamingos before The Flamingos stuck - have been singing since the 1950s and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001 for their longevity and achievements in the music industry.
Let’s learn more about this flamingo-named music group!
Jacob “Jake” Carey and Ezikial “Zeke” Carey, two cousins, moved from Baltimore to Chicago in 1950. They started attending the Black Jewish Church of God and Saints of Christ Congregation on 39th and State in Chicago, where they met Paul David Wilson and Johnny Carter. The four joined forces to form The Swallows, with Earl Lewis rounding out the group. Lewis left not long after, and Sollie McElroy, Zeke Carey’s coworker at the local Montgomery Ward department store, took his place to complete the collection.
The group’s first handful of singles - “If I Can’t Have You,” “That’s My Desire,” and “Golden Teardrops” - had some success in certain cities, but they never became national hits.
But even though they didn’t break out on a national scale, those who paid attention recognized the quality of The Flamingos’ sound. Some collectors consider “Golden Teardrops” to be the most perfect-sounding single ever, and other artists took notice. The Flamingos did many live shows with prominent jazz groups, like Lionel Hampton and Duke Ellington’s bands, in some big-name venues, such as the Regal in Chicago on Christmas 1953 and the Apollo in New York on Feb. 19, 1954.
The Flamingos continued on through the 50s producing music and building a name for themselves in cities like Chicago, New York, Detroit, Columbus, and other metros in the North. In 1959, they came out with “I Only Have Eyes For You,” which became the group’s top hit.
The Flamingos’ version of “I Only Have Eyes For You” was released in 1959 and rose to No. 5 on Billboard’s R&B chart at one point, finishing the year at No. 30 in R&B and No. 73 in the Hot 100.
But things changed as the decade turned. Some members of The Flamingos, which had grown since its earliest days, jumped ship to start solo careers or join another group. But the Careys wouldn’t be deterred. They rounded up a new crew under the same name and continued making music through the 60s, their most notable songs from that decade being “Boogaloo Party” and “Heavy Hips.” Even into the 70s and 80s, The Flamingos persisted, releasing albums and new songs, though the members of the group continued to change, with the Careys the only mainstays.
Jake Carey passed away in 1996, and Zeke Carey died in 2001. Their deaths led to legal disputes between Jake’s son J.C. Carey, who entered the group after his father’s death, and Terry “Buzzy” Johnson, who joined The Flamingos in 1956 and is one of the two remaining members from those days who’s still alive, over the trademark and rights to the name. Johnson owns the rights and still tours with an updated iteration of The Flamingos.
Not only were The Flamingos honored with a spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they also won the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award (1996) and entered the Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2000) and GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2003).
The elegance and grace of their singing and composition is appropriate given the group’s homage to the most beautiful bird, and their influence has been an unquestioned piece of the puzzle that inspired musical artists for generations after, directly or indirectly.