Among the first teenage vocal groups to proliferate the early to mid-50’s New York rock scene, helping to shift the dominant the focus of the sound from experienced professionals to amateurs able to authentically represent the perspective of their audience.

The group was from Harlem, in their mid-teens when inspired by the groups sprouting up in each neighborhood decided they could do better. Led by Joe Duncan with Herman Dunham, Red Walker, Melvin Walton and Teddy Williams in support, they were known at the time as The Rainbows and entered the famed amateur night contests at The Apollo Theater, finishing second in their first appearance in the winter of 1952, and winning their second time around that summer.

In spite of this they failed to impress King Records at an audition but when they made their own demo at a do-it-yourself record store the results found their way to local label owner Bobby Robinson who asked to meet with the group. Over the next few months he monitored their progress when stopping in at rehearsals until all involved felt they were ready for their first recording session in December 1952.

Their first release “Be True” charted in various cities across the country over the next few months but it was their follow-up, “Is It A Dream”, with new bass singer Lamar Cooper, which became their only certified national hit, breaking into the Top Five in late spring 1953.

With Duncan’s excessively nasal lead vocals and the group’s fragile subdued backing, they had a very distinctive sound that remained popular in and around New York over the next two years of releases on Red Robin.

The group began to fracture at the start of 1954 when Dunham left to join the Solitaires and was replaced by Joe Powell, but the unique blend they’d enjoyed was missing and by summer The Vocaleers began to go their separate ways.

Duncan went into the service, Walker and Walton joined the Savoys who cut a song that Duncan had given them, and they did the same with two more of his compositions with The Pretenders.

In 1959, after an abortive start the year before, The Vocaleers reformed with the classic lineup of Duncan, Dunham, Walker and Cooper, with only the service bound Walton being absent, replaced by Richard Blandon. They got two releases on the Old Town label and its subsidiary before landing at Vest Records for one last single wherein Duncan didn’t sing, only played piano.

The various members sang elsewhere, even under the same name, but their heyday had long since passed. Though they enjoyed just one big hit, they were a vital presence on the scene during the glory days of New York street corner vocal groups and as such a harbinger of things to come.

THE VOCALEERS DISCOGRAPHY (Records Reviewed To Date On Spontaneous Lunacy):

(Red Robin 113; December, 1952)
With a heartfelt lead on his own composition, Joe Duncan manages to make his earnest nasal delivery endearing while accurately depicting the hopeful longing of young love with some nice subdued support by the others, particularly Herman Dunham’s falsetto shadowing. (7)

(Red Robin 113; December, 1952)
A nice melody with some touching sentiments that gets hampered by Joe Duncan’s nasal voice that renders much of the lyrics almost indecipherable, though the others help give it a more appealing sound, while structurally this is a rough draft for what will follow. (5)