Earl Carroll, the lead singer and one of the founding members of the Fifties doo-wop group the Cadillacs, died Sunday from complications of diabetes and a recent stroke, The New York Times reports. He was 75.
The Cadillacs, originally dubbed the Carnations, formed in 1953 and consisted of Carroll, longtime friend Bobby Phillips (whose family helped raise Carroll after his mother passed away), Lavern Drake and Gus Willingham. Their first hit, “Gloria,” came a year later, and the foursome soon became known for their eye-popping outfits and dance routines.
The Cadillac’s second big hit was 1955’s “Speedoo,” a variant on Carroll’s nickname “Speedo,” which stemmed from the same incident: After a show at a Massachussets armory, Phillips saw a torpedo on display and told Carroll, who sported a somewhat pointy head: “Hey Speedo, there’s your torpedo!”
“My name is Earl,” responded Carroll. When the group recorded “Speedoo” the next day, that exchange became the song’s opening lines.
Carroll also sang with the Coasters for about two decades before reuniting with a new incarnation of the Cadillacs, who toured the U.S. and abroad. Their shows were often scheduled on weekends to accommodate Carroll’s day job as a custodian at an elementary school in Manhattan, a position he took soon after he started taking adult education classes in literacy there. Known for singing while he worked and regaling the kids – who he called “the teeny-weenies” – with stories about his life in music, Carroll retired from the post in 2005.
“You really felt good about keeping the school clean, and then the teeny-weenies, they love you so much,” he told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1988. “When they found out I was a rock ’n’ roller – I was on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo with Bill Cosby – the kids couldn’t believe it . . . Now they call me the star of the school.”