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The Boston Globe

Obituaries

Earl ‘Speedo’ Carroll, sang with Cadillacs, Coasters

Mr. Carroll was asked by students to identify himself in a photo of the Cadillacs found in a book in 1998.

John Sotomayor/The New York Times

Mr. Carroll was asked by students to identify himself in a photo of the Cadillacs found in a book in 1998.

NEW YORK — Earl ‘‘Speedo’’ Carroll — lead singer of 1950s doo-wop group the Cadillacs, who later found contentment, plus a measure of abiding renown, as a New York City school custodian — died Sunday in Manhattan at 75.

The cause was complications of diabetes and a recent stroke, said Vito Picone, lead singer of the doo-wop group the Elegants and a longtime friend.

Earl “Speedo” Carroll, top, with the Cadillacs in 1954.

James J. Kriegsmann/NY TIMES

Earl “Speedo” Carroll, top, with the Cadillacs in 1954.

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One of a cornucopia of street-corner tight-harmony groups formed by young black men in midcentury Harlem, the Cadillacs were among the first to incorporate rigorously choreographed dance moves.

The group, which flourished for about a decade starting in the early 1950s, had hits with ‘‘Gloria’’ and ‘‘Speedoo,’’ whose title is a variant spelling of Mr. Carroll’s nickname.

Mr. Carroll later spent two decades with the Coasters before rejoining a new incarnation of the ­Cadillacs about 30 years ago. Buoyed by the tide of R&B nostalgia, the new group performed mostly on weekends to accommodate Mr. Carroll’s day job at Public School 87 in Manhattan.

Earl Carroll was born in Harlem. He was reared by the family of a young friend, Bobby Phillips. It was a propitious friendship: Phillips would ­also sing with the Cadillacs.

“Somebody said, ‘What’s the finest car there is?’ and the light bulb went off: the Cadillac. You can’t get much classier than that,” Mr. Carroll told The Star- ­Ledger in 2010.

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The Cadillacs had their first hit with ‘‘Gloria’’ in 1954.

One day in 1955, Mr. Carroll recounted, the Cadillacs were performing at an armory in Massachusetts. As they were leaving, Phillips caught sight of a torpedo on display there.

‘‘Hey, Speedo, there’s your torpedo!’’ he told Mr. Carroll, who had a somewhat pointy head.

“My name is Earl,’’ Mr. Carroll responded tersely.

On the ride home, the nickname, and Mr. Carroll’s testy rejoinder, flew around the car. By the time the group reached New York, some evocative lines and a jaunty tune had emerged:

‘‘Well, now, they often call me Speedo/But my real name is Mr. Earl.’’

The Cadillacs recorded the song the next day.

Information on Mr. Carroll’s survivors was not available. Phillips died last year.

Mr. Carroll is survived, at the very least, by generations of children who passed through P.S. 87, a public elementary school on West 78th Street.

Learning of an opening for a janitor there, he took the job in 1982. He remained until his retirement in 2005, sometimes singing as he worked, and regaling the students — ‘‘the teeny-weenies,’’ he called them — with tales of his musical life.

‘‘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.’’

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