The Del-Vikings: Six Doo-Wop Groups in One

The puzzling story of the first integrated doo-wop group

The Del-Vikings
The Del-Vikings. Getty Images

Who were the Del-Vikings (or the Dell-Vikings)?

For a doo-wop group that only had three big hits, the Del-Vikings (or Dell Vikings, or Del Vikings, or Dell Vikings) had not only one of the most intriguing but also one of the most culturally and historically significant backstories in early rock history. Unfortunately, as those many names indicate, it's also one of the most confusing.

The Del-Vikings' best known songs:

  • "Come Go With Me"
  • "Whispering Bells"
  • "Cool Shake"
  • "How Can I Find True Love?"
  • "When I Come Home"
  • "Don't Be a Fool"
  • "I'm Spinning"
  • "I Hear Bells (Wedding Bells)"
  • "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"
  • "I'm Sittin' on Top of the World"

Where you might have heard them "Come Go With Me" is such a perfect encapsulation of the era's freewheeling innocence that it's been used as a signifier in every '50s period piece from American Graffiti to American Hot Wax to Diner to Stand by Me, but it still pops up in odd places: while tending Johnny Sack's garden in "The Sopranos," for example, or Tom Hanks dancing to it on a makeshift raft in Joe Versus the Volcano

Formed 1955 (Pittsburgh, PA)

Styles Doo-Wop, Pop Vocal, R&B, Great American Songbook

The Del-Vikings members in their classic lineup:

Corinthian "Kripp" Johnson (born May 16, 1933, Cambridge, MA; died June 22, 1990, Pontiac, MI); vocals (first tenor)
David Lerchey (born February 3, 1937, New Albany, IN; died Jan. 31, 2005, Hallandale, FL); vocals (second tenor / baritone)
Norman Wright (born October 31, 1937, Philadelphia, PA; died April 23, 2010, Morristown, NJ): vocals (baritone)
Don Jackson: vocals (baritone)
Clarence Quick (born February 2, 1937, Brooklyn, NY; died May 5, 1983, Brooklyn, NY): vocals (bass)
Joe Lopes (born 1934, Cambridge, MA): guitar

Claims to fame:

  • The first commercially successful integrated rock group
  • Their 1957 smash "Come Go With Me" is considered a quintessential doo-wop classic
  • An early favorite of mentor and highly influential DJ Alan Freed
  • Did more than any other group to put Pittsburgh on the rock n' roll map
  • Their excellent covers of pre- and postwar pop helped bridge the gap between pop vocal and doo-wop

History of the Del-Vikings

Early years

The story of most Fifties doo-wop groups begins with neighborhood friends gathering around a corner streetlamp in the evening to sing, or classmates at a local public high school keeping busy after hours, but the story of the Del-Vikings is an Air Force one: all five original vocalists (plus Lopes working out accompaniment on guitar, not at all unusual for a vocal group) were stationed at Pittsburgh's Air Force Reserve Base, where Quick, Kripp, Don Jackson, and Samuel Patterson began singing as the Four Deuces. In the next two years, they became known as one of the best vocal groups in the US military, even coming in second at the national Air Force talent show. When pilot David Lerchey was transferred in, Quick soon made him a second tenor who also filled in at baritone. Lerchey became the first White member of the all-Black group, now known as the Del Vikings (no hyphen), quietly making them one of the very first integrated rock groups -- a handful had existed before, but none had reached national success. Patterson was replaced by Norman Wright, a Black mechanic, the following year.


This would prove to be a good move when Wright took over baritone duties from Lerchey and began singing lead on one of Quick's compositions, an original called "Come Go With Me." Soon they caught the attention of local DJ Barry Kaye, who had them record a series of spare demos at his home, including "Come Go With Me" and what would turn out to be their second hit, a ballad called "Whispering Bells." The only label interested, however, was a tiny local outfit called Fee Bee, which recognized "Come Go With Me" as the hit and recorded it in late 1956. Plugged endlessly by Kaye, who was also their manager, it eventually made enough regional noise to attract the attention of legendary DJ Alan Freed, and soon they had a national hit. Jackson left or was forced out of the service for reasons unknown; his replacement was another White tenor, Gus Backus, who would later sing lead on their last hit, "Cool Shake." The now-uptempo "Whispering Bells," with Kripp on lead, became their second smash. But then everything exploded.

Later years

A management switch from Kaye to an Air Force lawyer named Alan Strauss meant that every member under 21, as legal minors, was suddenly no longer beholden to the Fee Bee contract. Strauss got everyone underage a better national label switch from Dot to Mercury, leaving only Kripp to carry on. There was now both a Del-Vikings group (led by Quick) and a Dell-Vikings group (led by Kripp), and a series of recordings flooded the market -- various combinations of members, jobs backing other singers, even solo and duet performances, all on several different labels, some credited to the group, some not, others partially. To make matters worse, their former manager overdubbed a full band into those original demos and released them as an album! Kripp was forced to let go of the Del(l)-Vikings name in early 1958, but the madness persisted even after the hits dried up: Fee Bee and Mercury kept reissuing old records under the group name, whether or not they were actually on them, and by the time Kripp rejoined Quick in the early '60s, it was anyone's guess who was who. The original members more or less reformed off and on in the Seventies to take advantage.of the "oldies" craze, even going so far as to make new sides until 1977 or so. Various members toured with various Vikings until about 2000 or so; the last public appearance with an original member was the "Doo Wop 50" special on PBS in 1999, which featured Lerchey. Last original member Norman Wright passed away in 2010.

More about the Del-Vikings

Other Del-Vikings fun facts and trivia:

  • No one seems to know why Quick named the group the Del-Vikings, only that adding "Del" on the front set off made them seem more "mysterious." It also set off a minor wave of "Del" vocal groups in doo-wop
  • With "Come Go With Me," Dot became the first-ever label to take an artist's indie label recordings and release them as is, without re-recording them
  • The one-l Del Vikings led by Quick on Mercury were the first to record "That's Why (I Love You So)," later a big hit for Jackie Wilson
  • The two-l Dell Vikings led by Kripp on Fee Bee and Dot also included a young Chuck Jackson, who would later go on to solo fame with the soul classic "Any Day Now (My Wild Beautiful Bird)" 

The Del-Vikings awards and honors Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2005)

The Del-Vikings songs, hits, and albums

Top 10 hits
Pop "Come Go With Me" (1957), "Whispering Bells" (1957)

R&B "Come Go With Me" (1957), "Whispering Bells" (1957), "Cool Shake" (1957)

Notable covers Dion and the Beach Boys both managed to take their own versions of "Come Go With Me" back into the Top 40; it was also the song that Liverpool skiffle group The Quarrymen were playing the day a teenage Paul McCartney met John Lennon (Lennon, having forgotten the words, rhymed "Come go with me" with "to the penitentiary")

Movies and TV Like most acts taken under Alan Freed's wing, the Del-Vikings appeared in one of his rock and roll movies, in this case 1957's The Big Beat, although they also appeared on a episode of "The Ed Sullivan Show," and also on Freed's attempt at an "American Bandstand" type show called "The Big Record"