“The Twist” had dominated the top of the Billboard Magazine Pop Singles Chart for five weeks during early 1962. First Chubby Checker (two weeks) and then Joey Dee and The Starliters (three weeks) had kept America dancing, but that all ended 50 years ago this week when Gene Chandler ascended to the top of the charts.
Chandler was a Chicago born (1937) and based rhythm & blues singer. His career spanned and remained commercially successful from the late 50s doo-wop era, through the British Invasion, into the disco era of the 1970s, and to the present day. His musical landmark occurred February 17, 1962, when his “Duke Of Earl” spent three weeks as the number one single in the United States.
He was originally a member of the vocal group, The Dukays. When their record label refused to release “Duke Of Earl” as a single, he went solo and released the song, which he had co-written, under his own name. It proved to be a wise decision as one million records sold later; he had produced one of the signature songs of the pre-Beatles era. The song’s vocal beginning, “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke Of Earl,” is still instantly recognizable by many music fans.
The song was a cross between do-wop and smooth R&B that resonated with the mainstream music audience. It was a clever love song about making the girl his Dutchess Of Earl. After each stanza, his clear tenor voice would soar in a do-wop style. It was one of those simple songs that had a beat and lyrics that would not leave your mind and was perfect for AM radio at the time.
Chandler would begin performing in a cape, monocle, top hat, and cane and calling himself “The Duke.” At the age of 77, “The Duke” is still on the road performing his favorite song, which was number one 52 years ago.