Cleve Duncan, lead singer and co-founder of The Penguins, a Los Angeles-based rhythm-and-blues vocal group best remembered for their 1954 recording of the classic crossover hit "Earth Angel," passed away this week at the age of 77.
No further details on Mr. Duncan's passing were made available at the time of this posting.
The original Penguins were formed late in 1953 in Los Angeles when Mr. Duncan was singing in a talent show and was approached by songwriter and ex-Hollywood Flames singer Curtis Williams. The twosome agreed to form a new group. The other original members were Dexter Tisby from Cleve's Fremont High School and Bruce Tate from Jefferson High, where Mr. Williams attended.
They took the group's name from the cartoon penguin depicted in advertisements for Kool cigarettes.
"Earth Angel," a song that Curtis Williams co-authored with Jesse Belvin, was the 'B' side of the group's second Dootone Records release. Nevertheless, that song would receive considerable airplay on many radio stations that played rhythm and blues music, rather than "Hey Senorita," the original 'A' side.
"Earth Angel" climbed up to #1 on Billboard's R&B charts while climbing up to #8 on the pop charts in early 1955 despite heavy competition from The Crew Cuts on Mercury Records, who, after the Penguins' disc became a big hit, became interested in buying the boys' contract from Dootone.
Buck Ram, the group's manager, would only agree to letting Mercury sign them if the label would also sign another group he managed---the Platters.
The Platters would go on to become the best-selling vocal group of the remaining of the 1950s while the Penguins never had another major chart hit.
The original group broke up in the late 1950s, but Cleve would revive the group, becoming lead singer throughout various re-incarnations of the Penguins.
Here's the classic, original 1954 recording on Dootone records out of Los Angeles of "Earth Angel" by the Penguins.
Rest in peace, Cleve.