Origin of falsetto in American pop music

I am talking about the use of falsetto in 50’s songs like, for example, “Why do Girls Fall in Love?” as well as the 70’s disco falsetto (was this just the BeeGees or did others do this?). Are the two phenomena historically related? If not, what was the origin of each? If so, what is the origin of the first?

Any other interesting trivia on falsetto in American pop music are welcome, as well.


Prince? Michael Jackson? It was everywhere, and it is awful.

(BTW I speculate that it has its origin in some Italian folk tradition or other which derives from techniques of opera, and traveled into American pop through street Doo-Wop, which, apparently, (I’ve read) has its roots in Italian immigrant culture.

Just getting that in in case I turn out, miraculously, to be right. Then I can yell “I called it!” Stephen Colbert style. :stuck_out_tongue: )


I believe the song to which you refer is “Why Do Fools Fall In Love” By Franky Lymon and the Teenagers

Of course, a slip of the keyboard. :slight_smile:


I don’t know that the pedigree can be traced back to this but there was also a very rich tradition of falsetto singing in 19th and early 20th century black blues music, which I doubt stemmed from Italian opera. It’s influence is evident in lots of B.B. King songs and a couple of Clapton tunes.

Exactly the kind of info I was looking for.

I had no idea there was falsetto singing in blues that far back. I’ll try to look up some sound clips, this sounds interesting.


Don’t forget the heavy metal falsetto–I think the exemplar is Mercyful Fate, although it pops up in The Darkness more recently.

It’s never made a bit of sense to me, and tends to send me off cringing from music I’d otherwise enjoy.

Look up Skip James.

Falsetto is also a common attribute of African American English, so it’s use in blues makes sense. Whether that’s why it’s used in disco and heavy metal, I can’t say, but that was my first thought.

1950s doo wop was for the most part acapella singing. The voice was used as a replacement for a musical instrument. This method of singing preceeded doo wop in the 30s and 40s with the likes of the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, etc. Doo wop all but faded away by the early 60s (in my opinion) because it had just run out of steam. Or perhaps it was what evolved into what is popularly known as soul music. The falsetto, however, remained a musical styling that carried over into future genres. The Four Seasons, The Stylistics, The Bee Gees, etc. When done properly the falsetto can be just as beautiful as fine opera.

I haven’t noticed this, can you say more about it to help me spot it?


I’ve noticed this discussion has been restricted to male voices (although I can’t see why it should be - even the OP didn’t state that).
Anyway, there has been some great falsetto singing in popular music by females.
One great example is Pat Benatar’s “We Live For Love”. (1980) (For a time she did study opera and it is evident on this song).

I think King Diamond is more famous for it.

In Eddie Murphy’s standup film Raw, he does a brief bit about how when a black man wants to intimidate someone, the voice will rise in pitch.

Whoosh? Merciful Fate was King Diamond’s old band.