We always called him “Speedo,” but his real name was Earl Carroll. As one of the original members of the Chantels, this editor worked with the Cadillacs on several doo-wop shows throughout the years. Carroll was a fabulous entertainer. Every time he hit the stage with the group, he gave the performance of his life. Audiences loved him. When he sang leads on the group’s hits, “Gloria” and “They Often Call Me Speedo,” the Cadillacs always brought the house down and received standing ovations.
Speedo played to the audiences, and most of the time, he sang his leads down in the audiences. The group’s showmanship was superb. On various occasions, I recall us arriving at the venue for a sound check then listening to the Cadillacs rehearsing the band onstage. One of us always commented, ” Our harmony must be superb tonight,” as we walked to our dressing rooms. The Cadillacs were a tight, spot-on harmony act, even though they danced and acted out comical skits onstage.
Stemming from the era of the 1950s, singing groups were, and still are, extremely serious and disciplined about their stage presence, their uniforms (outfits worn onstage) and their singing. We were all saddened to hear the news of Carroll’s passing in Manhattan at the age of 75 on Nov. 25. The Cadillacs are a hard act to follow.
A native New Yorker, Carroll’s singing career began when he and three friends were singing together as the Carnations in Harlem. They use to rehearse at P.S. 49 in the early 1950s and perform at local school dances. They were eventually spotted by Lover Patterson, a vocal group singer, and signed with Josie Records. Due to another group called the Carnations, they changed their name to the Cadillacs. For choreography, they worked with Charlie Atkins and Honi Cole, a famous tap-dancing team that worked with most of the groups of the era, including the Chantels.
Carroll also worked as a new addition of the Coasters in 1961 and stayed with them for 20 years. However, in 1979, he was asked to restart the Cadillacs for a Subaru commercial that put the group back on the doo-wop track.
In a 1994 Daily News David Hinckley interview, Carroll revealed how he received his nickname. “I always liked to take my time, do things at my own pace. Since I was a kid, the other guys would be telling me, ‘C’mon, hurry up, Speedy,’” he explained.
He retired as a custodian at P.S. 87 on the west side of Manhattan in 2005. Speedo had been away from the circuit due to his suffering with diabetes, a stroke and other illnesses. The last time I saw him and the group backstage was on a show at Lehman College just a winter ago.
The biggest hits of the Cadillacs included “Gloria,” “You Are,” “Wishing Well,” “My Girlfriend,” “Peek-a-Boo” and their best-known song, “Speedo.” His swagger, high spirit, jokes, joyful laughter and his business of show will be greatly missed. Like I said, we always called him Speedo, but his real name was Earl Carroll.