Doo-Wop Crossover Kings: The Flamingos

The group that helped turn doo-wop into mainstream pop

The Flamingos
The Flamingos.

Who were The Flamingos?

Unlike the Platters, their closest competition in the Fifties, the Flamingos (sometimes spelled Flamingoes) never achieved a string of pop hits in the rock n' roll era. But they weren't a vocal group per se, they were pure doo-wop, yet they managed to make the streetcorner style respectable anyway, largely thanks to a deathless, era-defining smash.

The Flamingos' best-known songs:

  • "I Only Have Eyes for You"
  • "Lovers Never Say Goodbye"
  • "Mio Amore"
  • "My Foolish Heart"
  • "Would I Be Crying (If I Were Lyin' to You)"
  • "Your Other Love"
  • "The Vow"
  • "I'll Be Home"
  • "A Kiss From Your Lips"
  • "Time Was"

Where you might have heard them "I Only Have Eyes for You" has been thrown into the mix on everything from "The Sopranos" and "Smallville" to the movies Something's Gotta Give and The Right Stuff, but sometimes an odd deep cut pops up, like "Golden Teardrops" in the forgotten Ben Affleck drama Going All the Way

Formed 1952 (Chicago, IL)

Styles Doo-wop, Rock and Roll, Pop Vocal, R&B

The Flamingos' Classic Lineup:

Jake Carey (born Jacob Carey, September 9, 1926, Pulaski, VA; died December 31, 1997, Chicago, IL): vocals (bass); Zeke Carey (born Ezekiel Carey, January 24, 1933, Bluefield, WV; died December 24, 1999, Chicago, IL): vocals (second tenor), bass guitar; Terry Johnson (born November 12, 1935, Baltimore, MD): vocals (falsetto), guitar; Tommy Hunt (born June 18, 1933, Pittsburgh, PA): vocals (second tenor), piano; Nate Nelson (born April 10, 1932, Chicago, IL; died April 10, 1984, Boston, MA): vocals (lead tenor), drums; Paul David Wilson (born January 6, 1935, Chicago, IL; died May 6, 1988, Chicago, IL): vocals (baritone)

Claims to fame:

  • Created a cover of the standard "I Only Have Eyes For You" which some consider one of the finest doo-wop songs ever recorded
  • Were a constant presence on the R&B vocal scene from its earliest postwar days up through the early Sixties
  • Helped bring doo-wop into respectability by moving from raw R&B to pop standards
  • One of the first vocal groups to play their own instruments on stage, if not on record
  • Major players in the history of Chicago R&B and rock and roll, and the single biggest influence on the Temptations
  • Surviving members successfully sued Pepsi for $250,000 when the company used "Eyes" in an ad without permission

The Flamingos History

Early years

The Flamingos began life as the Swallows, a group of fellow churchgoers who began streetcorner singing in the Windy City with lead Earl Lewis, later of the Channels. Based around the Carey "cousins" (who grew up together but were not actually related), they soon replaced Lewis with Sollie McElroy, a coworker of Zeke's at the local Montgomery Ward department store. When their original manager was drafted, he secured as his replacement Billy Ward and the Dominoes' manager, and after a name change to the Flamingos (to avoid confusion with a Baltimore group of the same name), the group was a local hit.


Unfortunately, years of church singing and ballads had left them a little too polished for hard R&B, and although the classic "Golden Teardrops" broke in New York, the group had no national hits. They soldiered on, weathering the death of their manager, the departure of several members, various label moves, and a Pat Boone cover ("I'll Be Home") that blocked them from pop success even as it got them noticed on black radio.

Eventually, George Goldner signed them to End Records and refashioned them after the Platters, resulting in the 1959 smash "I Only Have Eyes For You."

Later years

As black music became harder, however, the Flamingos found it hard to repeat their successes in the early Sixties; infighting over various solo projects led to the splintering of the group. Terry Johnson kept the name alive through 1964 with new members, and the Careys recorded unsuccessfully with various "Flamingos" through the Seventies and Eighties. Today, only two original members of the group remain alive -- Johnson and Hunt. Johnson, having fought off trademark infringement from Jake's son J.C., now owns the rights to the name and tours with a revamped version of the group to this day.

More About the Flamingos

Other Flamingos facts and trivia:

  • Other members included Johnny Carter (born June 2, 1934, Chicago, IL): vocals (first tenor); Sollie McElroy (born July 16, 1933, Gulfport, MS; died January 15, 1995): vocals (lead tenor)
  • Wilson, Carter, and the Careys were all black Messianic Jews
  • They were named for a gym in their Chicago neighborhood, originally the "El Flamingos" and then the "5 Flamingos"
  • Their hit "Nobody Loves Me Like You" was written for the group by Sam Cooke
  • Johnny Carter eventually wound up in the Dells after returning from the service; he is still with them today

Flamingos Awards and Honors: Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2001), Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2000), Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award (1996), GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2003)

Flamingos Hit Songs and Albums:

Top 10 hits
R&B "I'll Be Home" (1956), "I Only Have Eyes For You" (1959)

Notable covers Pat Boone stole the thunder of "I'll Be Home" (1956) with his own watered-down pop version the same year; Art Garfunkel's version of "I Only Have Eyes for You" became a Top 40 hit in 1975; The Fugees sample the famous intro to "Eyes" in their own 1996 track "Zealots"

Movies and TV The Flamingos appeared as themselves, performing in Alan Freed's classic '50s rock films Rock, Rock, Rock (1956) and Go, Johnny, Go! (1959); Johnson's version of the Flamingos performed on two PBS doo-wop specials and also made it to the set of "The View" in 2015