Zeke Carey, 66, the last original member of The Flamingos, a pioneering rhythm and blues group whose songs included "I Only Have Eyes for You," died of cancer Dec. 24 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. The Alexandria resident had continued to perform until recently.
Mr. Carey and his cousin Jake Carey began their doo-wop singing group 50 years ago in Chicago with Paul Wilson and Johnny Carter, fellow members of an African American Jewish congregational choir. Originally called The Swallows, the foursome was joined by lead singer Earl Lewis, who shortly went over to the group the Five Echos and was replaced by Sollie McElroy. There were additional changes in the group over the years.
Flamingo renditions of "Golden Teardrops," "Lovers Never Say Goodbye" and other close-harmony vocals were to influence a generation of American superstar singers, including the Temptations, Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and Gladys Knight and the Pips.
Romantic couples of the Eisenhower-Kennedy era loved to slow-dance to the dreamy 1959 Flamingo version of "I Only Have Eyes for You," with its lyrics:
"Are the stars out tonight?
I don't know if it's cloudy or bright
I only have eyes for you, dear . . . " The song, a cover of what had been a huge hit for bandleader Eddy Duchin a generation earlier, was their best-seller. It was the No. 3 R&B tune that year and No. 11 on the popular music roster.
The Flamingos went on to record two more R&B Top 30 singles and a number of albums. Mr. Carey, a tenor, appeared with the group last month on public television broadcasts of a doo-wop special, featuring more than 100 performers and hosted by singer-songwriter Jerry "The Iceman" Butler.
The Flamingos were nominated in September for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. They were also featured on a Dick Clark special and on Grammy Award broadcasts. The group's latest recording was "Unspoken Emotions."
Mr. Carey, who had lived in the Washington area for about 25 years, was born in Baltimore and raised in Norfolk. The Flamingos recorded initially in the early 1950s for the Chance label. Mr. Carey dropped out in the mid-1950s to serve in the Army and then rejoined the group for its most prolific period through the early 1960s. In that decade, another of its big hits was "Boogaloo Party."
The Flamingos have continued to tour and record, reconstituting as members left or died. They played a variety of dates, including Madison Square Garden, clubs in Las Vegas and elsewhere, and college campuses.
The Washington-based Rhythm & Blues Foundation awarded the group its Pioneer Award in 1996.
Mr. Carey's survivors include three daughters, Melanie Dyer of Roxbury, Mass., Tanyika Carey of New York and Kim Turner of Clairton, Pa.; two sisters; a brother; and five grandchildren.