The Vault of Soul: The Flamingos

A black and white photograph of seven members of soul group the Flamingos on a light purple background with lyrics from the Flamingos overlayed in a darker shade of purple. A yellow rectangle has black text that reads: "The Flamingos" and in the top right is "The Vault of Soul" logo.
Graphics by Riley Vecchione

By Sofia Giarrusso, Staff Writer

Each week of Black Music Month, we’ve opened the 88.9 Vault of Soul with profiles of iconic soul pioneers. Closing out this month is the Flamingos, a group often cited on other Vault entries as an inspiration for the greats, from Diana Ross to Smokey Robinson. Continue reading to take a deep dive into the Flamingo’s incredible career and legacy.



The Flamingos were a Chicago-based doo-wop group created in 1953. The group found success throughout the 50s with their downtempo love ballads like their 1959 song, “I Only Have Eyes For You” which has been ranked number 158 on Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list. The Flamingos went through many members due to factors such as the draft and aspirations of solo careers, but, despite the switch in lineups, these doo-wop greats have cemented themselves in music history for their beautiful harmonies and easy-listening sensibility. 



The four founding Flamingos were made up of cousins Jake and Zeke Carey, Paul Wilson and Johnny Carter. The men met at their local Church of Gods and Saints of Christ in Chicago, and, soon joined by Sollie McElroy, released their first single for Chance Records titled “If I Can’t Have You.” The group eventually left the record company to sign with Parrot Records, then left again to join Chess Records in 1955. At Chess Records, the Flamingos found their first nationally charting song with “I’ll Be Home.”

With moderate success to their name, the Flamingos were featured in the Alan Freed film Rock, Rock, Rock in 1956. And, after a whirlwind of member changes within mere years, Terry “Buzzy” Johnson joined the quintet in 1958; Johnson is now a successful music producer and the only surviving member of the group (aged 85). Johnson shared the bulk of the Flamingo’s writing and leading duties with Paul Wilson, which contributed to their well-known tracks and ultimate fame.



In 1958, the Flamingos began recording with End Records where they produced their most famous hits. Their first pop chart hit was “Lovers Never Say Goodbye,” and come 1959, “I Only Have Eyes For You” secured the doo-wop group’s grip on the genre. Their now-classic romanticism and smooth approach to harmonies created a signature sound that was evident in their many charting songs. Not only was the Flamingos’ music getting praise, but their stage presence was turning heads as well. The group became known for synchronized choreography that inspired later hitmakers like Motown supergroup The Temptations



The ’60s brought immense change to the Flamingos. Members Nate Nelson and Terry Johnson split to create “The Modern Flamingos” as Johnny Carter left to join The Dells — another influential American R&B group. The group kept recording into the mid-2000s with many members coming and going along with name changes. Eventually, by 2005, the group officially split due to money disputes. Terry Johnson currently owns the “Flamingos” trademark and continues to tour.







While the Flamingos never took home any traditional awards during the peak of their career, they amassed multiple honors and awards later on such as…

  • Rhythm & Blues Foundation Pioneer Award (1996)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2000)
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2001)
  • Grammy Award Hall of Fame for “I Only Have Eyes for You” (2003)
  • Doo-Wop Hall of Fame (2004)




This doo-wop classic is the Flamingo’s most popular track and continues to be adored 65 years into the present. A cover of Harry Warren and Al Dubin’s 1934 song, “I Only Have Eyes For You” is a richly layered and romantic tune that shows off the best of what the Flamingos had to offer. The track starts tame and unassuming, but progressively grows more haunting and infectious with every “sha bop sha bop.” This all-around lyrically sweet ballad is made all the more memorable by the Flamingo’s performance which toes the line between gorgeous and unsettling due to the use of a minor chord. “I Only Have Eyes For You” is most remembered through the countless uses of the track in film and television soundtracks including, but not limited to, Euphoria (2019-), The Sopranos (1999-2007), and American Graffiti (1973).



Another downtempo love ballad, “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” sees more solos and varied vocal blending from the members of the Flamingos. This is one of the most successful songs from the group due in part to the writing talent of Paul Wilson and Terry Johnson. The Flamingos perform in perfect harmony per their usual fashion while lyrically tugging on the heartstrings of all the romantics out there with lines like “Though we must part / There's no reason to cry / Just say so long / Because lovers never say goodbye.” “Lovers Never Say Goodbye” is a classic doo-wop tune–a staple of 50s music history. 


“MIO AMORE” (1960)

The Flamingos were quite the sentimental group–an observation further supported by their 1960 track, “Mio Amore.” Meaning “my love” in Italian, this essential Flamingos song stands out for its absolutely blissful instrumentation and vocal performances. “Mio Amore” is saturated with lyrics of admiration and declarations of love which completely encapsulates the dreamy nature of the genre of doo-wop. As the quintet repeats “I am yours my love / Till the end of time” mixed with its moody tempo,  this track may just be best suited for a 60s-themed formal dance that practically begs to be slow-danced to.  


You can revisit past Vault of Soul articles here, featuring artists such as James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and more. 

Interested in exploring the soul genre beyond the vault? Be sure to tune into 88.9 every night between 10 pm and 2 am for The Secret Spot. Or, take a deep dive into R&B, hip-hop and the legendary voices of soul alongside new and pioneering MCs by streaming ERS+.

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