Earl "Speedo" Carroll of the Cadillacs Passes Away at 75

Cadillacs (Carroll second from right)
One of doo wop's greats, Earl "Speedo" Carroll of the Cadillacs passed away on Sunday from complications of diabetes and a recent stroke. He was 75.

Carroll was one of the original members of the Carnations when they formed in 1953 along with Bobby Phillips, Lavern Drake and Gus Willingham. As the group gained popularity, they got the opportunity to record, adding James "Poppa" Clark and changing their name to the Cadillacs.  Their first record, Gloria/Wonder Why (1954), was issued by Josie Records, going on to become a doo wop classic even though it never charted nationally.

A year later, Willingham and Clark left the group and were replaced by Earl Wade and Charles Brooks. Late in 1955, they recorded what would become their biggest hit, Speedoo, which went to number 3 on the R&B and 17 on the Pop charts. The group also added tight choreography courtesy of Vaudeville stars Cholly Atkins and Honi Coles, making them stand out from the vast number of other vocal groups.

The Cadillacs split into two separate groups in 1957, one called the Four Cadillacs and the other, which included Carroll, using the original name. They scored two more R&B hits in the 50's, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1957/#11 R&B) and Peek-a-Boo (1959/#20 R&B/#28 Pop).

The split groups soon reformed but Carroll's lead singer duties had been given to others, so he left to form Speedo and the Pearls. Less than twelve months later, he rejoined the group which went on to have one final hit, What You Bet (1961/#30 R&B). Earl stayed until 1963 when he left to become a member of the Coasters.

In 1979, Carroll left the Coasters to rejoin the Cadillacs with whom he stayed for the rest of his career. The group performed mainly on the oldies circuit during the weekends as Carroll was also worked as the janitor at Public School 87 in Manhattan from 1982 to 2005. His work at the school was the subject of the children's book That's Our Custodian by Ann Morris.

Over the last decade, Carroll and the Cadillacs have appeared regularly on the PBS fundraising concerts focusing on doo wop and R&B.

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