Original members :
The Shirelles, initially known as the Poquellos (Spanish for little birds), were the most popular of the early 1960s girl groups and a model for most of the decade's female aggregations. They were one of the few Afro-American groups to score consistently higher on the pop charts than on the R&B charts. Also, they were the first female group of the rock era to have a number one single.
The quartet of 16- and 17-year olds were all friends from Passaic High School in Passaic, New Jersey, and began singing together in 1957. All the girls liked listening to popular music and received a large part of their musical education by listening to New York's premier R&B station at the time, WWRL. After winning a school contest they were approached by a classmate, Mary Jane Greenberg, whose mother, Florence, ran a small record label, Tiara Records. Initially the group was not interested in recording, but Mary Jane was very persistent and in the end the Poquellos relented, auditioning for Florence in her living room with a song they had written themselves, called "I Met Him On A Sunday". On February 7, 1958, they found themselves in a New York recording studio doing their own song and "I Want You To Be My Boyfriend", which were released as their first single in March, credited to their new name, the Shirelles (Tiara 6112). When the song started to make noise locally, Florence Greenberg received an offer from Decca Records to distribute the single nationally and re-release it on Decca. This meant national exposure for the single and the group, something the tiny Tiara label could not provide. "I Met Him On A Sunday" peaked at # 49 on Billboard's pop charts, but two subsequent Decca singles failed to chart, after which Decca dropped the Shirelles.
Florence Greenberg renamed her label Scepter Records and began to release new Shirelles product under that imprint. Their first Scepter 45 was a remake of the 5 Royales' 1957 single "Dedicated To the One I Love", which reached # 83 (pop) in July 1959, but the next two singles bombed completely. Greenberg felt that the group needed better material and more promotion and hired producer/songwriter Luther Dixon to work with the girls. His first efforts with the Shirelles brought forth "The Dance Is Over" (the intended A-side) and a song co-written with group member Shirley Owens entitled "Tonight's the Night". The latter side took off in New York and eventually made the national Top 40 (# 39), despite the competition of a cover version by the Chiffons, which went to # 76. Dixon's next production would open the floodgates, not only for the Shirelles, but also for many female groups to follow. He received a demo from two aspiring Brooklyn writers, Carole King and Gerry Goffin, and played the song, "Tomorrow", for the girls. They rejected it, feeling it was "too white", but Luther convinced them he could tailor the song to their sound and they agreed to try it. Since Shirley had success with "Tonight's the Night", she was selected to sing lead instead of Doris Coley, who had sung most of the lead parts until then. By the time it was released, in November 1960, the song's title had become "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". From the moment Shirley sings her first line the listener is captured. The melodious backing vocals, swirling violin break and poetic lyrics keep the production in stride. The song took off immediately and did not stop until it reached the top spot on the charts on January 30, 1961. The Shirelles were now national singing sensations. A reissue of "Dedicated To the One I Love" entered the Top 10 (eventually peaking at # 3) while "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" was still at # 5. "Mama Said" (# 4), "Baby It's You" (# 8) and "Soldier Boy" (their second number one, May 1962) were also enormous hits. By 1962 their sound was leaning more towards a pop sound than an R&B sound. Doris's vocals proved too strong for this direction, so most leads went now to Shirley. Early in 1963 Luther Dixon's contract with Scepter came to an end and he moved on to Capitol, which would turn out to be a crucial setback for the quartet. Stan Greenberg, Florence's son, took over as the Shirelles' producer and he scored with the group's first single for 1963, "Foolish Little Girl", which went to # 4. But it was to be the group's last Top 10 hit. Though they still had nine more (modest) chart entries in 1963-1964, the end of their hit-making days was near, due to the British Invasion and heavy competition from other girl groups like the Supremes, the Crystals and the Dixie Cups. Two of their songs, "Boys" and "Baby It's You", were covered by the Beatles and Manfred Mann had a big transatlantic hit with their "Sha La La", but that was of little help to the Shirelles. Legal battles over non-received trust fund money from Scepter didn't do much good either.
Scepter continued to issue Shirelles sides through 1968, but newer acts on the label, like Dionne Warwick, now assumed the quartet's one-time prime position.Doris left the group in 1968 and they carried on as a trio, recording for Blue Rock, Bell (as Shirley and the Shirelles), United Artists and RCA until 1973. In that year they made an appearance in the movie "Let the Good Times Roll", with the Coasters, Little Richard, the Five Satins and other stars of the early days of rock and roll. The Shirelles became a cornerstone of Richard Nader's Rock & Roll revival shows. They stopped making records and carried on as a nostalgia act. Altogether they had 26 pop hits and 20 R&B hits between 1958 and 1967.
Shirley went solo in 1975, but Doris returned and the group continued performing until June 10, 1982, when Micki Harris died of a heart attack while performing with the group on stage in Atlanta. Entering the 1990s there were three different Shirelles groups, each with one original member, although the trademark to the Shirelles' name was eventually acquired by Beverly Lee.
Shirley, Beverly and Doris were honoured with their induction into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in New York in 1994 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Doris Coley Kenner (later Doris Kenner Jackson) died in February 2000, from breast cancer. Their one time mentor, Florence Greenberg, passed away in 1997.
More info : http://www.starpulse.com/Music/Shirelles,_The/Biography/
Further reading: John Clemente, Girl groups : Fabulous females that rocked the world. Iola, Wisconsin : Krause, 2000. Page 200-205.
Discography : http://www.soulfulkindamusic.net/shirelles.htm
Acknowledgements : John Clemente, Jay Warner, Fred Bronson.
Dik, January 2013
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