Harry Gross The Duke of Doo Wop has reigned for years in Rockaway Park, Queens, heading toward the stage in a top hat and cape, handing red roses to his fans and followers as an a cappella group sings "Duke of Doo Wop." Everyone who is anyone in doo-wop in the area knows his name, which is Harry G., and knows that at this time each year, popular acts descend on Beach Channel High School for the Harry G. Doo Wop Spectacular. But then, everyone in doo-wop is famous in one way or another.
"Everyone in doo-wop is the prince of this and the king of that," said Kenny Vance, who together with the Planotones was the headliner at this year's spectacular, which was scheduled for last night. "So he's the duke. He loves putting on a great show."
While the music scene in Queens has been known most in recent years for its hip-hop native sons, including Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson and Ja Rule, doo-wop is unquestionably the main attraction during the last weekend in January. In this, the 13th year of the Harry G. Doo Wop Spectacular, the roster also included the Fireflies, John Kuse and the Excellents, and a 10-year-old front man named Kid Kyle.
"It's like a Broadway production in Rockaway — what can I say?" said Harry G., who outside the doo-wop realm is Harry Gross, a resident of Merrick, Long Island, and a retired teacher of communication arts at Beach Channel High School.
Though he lays no claim to being a Gucci-shod, Bentley-driving impresario, Harry G. is certainly big enough in the doo-wop world to attract the biggest acts. Running the show himself since 1994, when he took over what was then a much smaller production from a teacher colleague, Harry G. annually draws crowds from across the country — and occasionally the world — of 1,000 or more to sway along to classics like "Under the Boardwalk" and "Why Do Fools Fall in Love."
Everybody has a good time, and that's what the show is supposed to be about," he said last week from his ticketing and booking headquarters in Long Beach, where he answers calls with the greeting "Hello, doo-wop."
In the eyes of many who attend the show, and certainly those who perform in it, doo-wop is an ailing but particularly American form of music that must be preserved. Starting on city street corners after World War II, doo-wop quickly took over the popular music scene, at least until the advent of the Beach Boys and their ilk. For doo-wop fans, Harry G.'s spectacular offers both a dose of nostalgia and a little hope.