SHIRLEY AND LEE
Shirley Goodman Born 19 June 1936, New Orleans, Louisiana
Leonard Lee Born 29 June 1935, New Orleans, Louisiana (Not 1936, as most sources claim.) Died 26 October 1976, New Orleans, Louisiana
Listening to Shirley and Lee evokes mixed emotions. Their accompaniment by top-notch New Orleans session men (Lee Allen, Red Tyler, Edward Frank, Earl Palmer et al.) is a joy to hear and Leonard Lee’s blues-based vocals are always pleasant. It is Shirley’s shrieking child-like voice (which often tends to drift off-key) that spoils much of the pleasure for me. The duo didn’t sing duets in the classic sense because uniting their disparate voices in sweet harmony was nearly impossible. So the young pair usually alternated choruses rather than struggling to find a common key.
Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee first crossed paths in elementary school. In 1950 they recorded a demo of “I’m Gone” (for their own private use) with a group of friends, at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans, for two dollars. Eddie Mesner, co-owner of the L.A. based Aladdin label, happened to hear the tape when he was in New Orleans in 1952. Matassa wanted to re-use an old tape for an Aladdin session but played it first to verify it was junk. Mesner went crazy about Shirley’s voice and asked Matassa to find her. Dave Bartholomew, then on a sabbatical from Imperial, located both Shirley and Leonard, rewrote parts of the song and produced a professional re-recording of “I’m Gone”. It was a surprise hit, peaking at # 2 on the R&B charts in early 1953. Aladdin billed the duo as the “Sweethearts of the Blues”, in an effort to promote a non-existing romance between the couple on songs like “Shirley Come Back To Me”, “Shirley’s Back”, “So In Love”, "The Proposal” and “Lee Goofed”.
However, Shirley and Lee had no further hits until August 1955, when “Feel So Good” (later a pop hit for Johnny Preston, as “Feel So Fine”, 1960) entered the R&B charts, reaching the # 2 spot for the second time. This became a turning point in their career and marked the switch from ballads to rock & roll. The ongoing teen romance story was discontinued and the duo was now marketed as “The Sweethearts of Rock and Roll”. In the summer of 1956 they crossed over to the pop charts (# 20) with “Let the Good Times Roll” (penned by Leonard, who wrote most of their material), now regarded as an R&B standard, covered by countless other artists. The song topped the R&B charts for three weeks and became Aladdin’s first million seller. The follow-up, “I Feel Good”, was also successful, reaching # 38 on the Billboard Top 100 and # 3 on the R&B lists. But after “When I Saw You” spent one week at # 14 (R&B) in March 1957, there were no more chart entries on Aladdin, despite several good R&R recordings, always with fine sax solos by Lee Allen.
Shirley and Lee left Aladdin in 1959 and signed with Morty Craft’s Warwick label the next year. They returned to the pop charts in the second half of 1960 with “I’ve Been Loved Before” (# 88) and a new version of “Let the Good Times Roll” (# 48). After six singles for Imperial in 1962-63 (produced by Dave Bartholomew) the Sweethearts of the Blues / Rock and Roll decided to call it a day. Both had a solo release on Imperial (Leonard as “Mr. Lee”) before Shirley moved to Los Angeles. She made records with Jessie Hill (as Shirley and Jessie) and did session work with Harold Battiste and Dr. John, fellow expats from New Orleans. Shirley also sang background on the Rolling Stones LP “Exile On Main Street” (1972).
Leonard pursued a low-key solo career, with further releases on GNP Crescendo, Trumpet and Broadmoor (Dave Bartholomew’s label). In 1972 the pair was reunited for the ninth Rock ’n’ Roll Revival Show in New York City, organized by Richard Nader. They went on stage without much rehearsal but were warmly received. Nader released a movie of performances from his revival shows and called it “Let the Good Times Roll” (1973). The duo’s 1956 performance of the song (also reissued by United Artists) played under the opening credits, but otherwise they were absent from the film.
As Shirley and Company, Goodman was catapulted out of the oldies circuit in 1975 with her biggest-ever hit, the disco romper “Shame Shame Shame” (# 12 pop, # 1 R&B). The record came out on Joe and Sylvia Robinson’s Vibration label out of Englewood, New Jersey. Mrs. Robinson, who wrote and produced the song, was the Sylvia of the 1950s hit act Mickey and Sylvia. She also produced the follow-up, “Cry Cry Cry”, which scraped the bottom of the Billboard Hot 100 at # 91. After a few further recordings and tours, Goodman retired from the music industry and returned to New Orleans in the late 1970s. In 1994 she moved back to Los Angeles, where she died in July 2005.
Disappointed by his lack of solo success, Leonard Lee had gone back to school and earned a degree in social work. He worked for a Government poverty agency until his untimely death of a heart attack in October 1976. He was only 41. Shirley and Lee have an important place in New Orleans’ musical heritage. The influence of this boy-girl R&B singing team stretched well beyond the Crescent City in a long line, from Mickey and Sylvia to Gene and Eunice (also Aladdin) and Dale and Grace.
More info :
Discography (singles only) :
Acknowledgements : Jeff Hannusch, Steve Kolanjian, John Broven.
Dik, August 2016
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