Cleveland "Cleve" Duncan, lead vocalist for the highly influential doo wop group The Penguins, passed away Tuesday in Los Angeles while in the process of casting his vote in the US Presidential Election. He was 77.
Cleve sang lead on the group's one big hit, "Earth Angel," a groundbreaking doo-wop ballad that was actually released as a b-side in 1954; enterprising DJs flipped it and made "Angel" one of the first big rock and roll records. Their manager, Buck Ram, sold the group's contract to Mercury Records after "Angel" broke on the condition they also take another of his acts, The Platters; Ram gave the best material to the Platters instead, and the Penguins never recovered.
The group soldiered on until 1962, but Duncan reformed it many times with different members, becoming a fixture on the oldies circuit. The Penguins were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. "It's a timeless song," Duncan once said of "Angel." "People will always want to hear it."