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Members include Shirley Alston (born June 10, 1941); Addie "Micki" Harris (born January 22, 1940; died of a heart attack, June 10, 1982, in Los Angeles); Doris Kenner (born August 2, 1941); and Beverly Lee (born August 3, 1941). Addresses: Management-- Bevi Corp., P.O. Box 100, Clifton, NJ 07011-0100.
When four high school friends from New Jersey began singing together informally in the mid-1950s, they had no idea that in a few years they would be making music history. But in 1960, Shirley Alston, Doris Kenner, Beverly Lee, and Addie "Micki" Harris became the first black all-female singing group to land a Number One hit on the pop charts. They would go on to become one of the most successful and influential of early rock's "girl groups." Even in the 1990s, their energetic and instantly recognizable vocals remained imbedded in America's musical consciousness, with their songs frequently heard on "oldies" radio stations and used in films and television to evoke the spirit of the 1960s.
The Shirelles were not the first girl group of the rock era, but they were the first to achieve international success. And they had a durable impact on other musicians. Ronnie Spector, singer with the Ronettes, once stated, according to a press release issued by the Shirelles' 1990s management company, Beverly Productions, "The Shirelles were our idols." Singer Dionne Warwick claimed, "The Shirelles taught me how to move on stage." And said Mary Wilson of the Supremes, "[The Shirelles] definitely made a way for girl groups, because prior to that it was all guys. They showed that it could work." As long after the group's heyday as the early 1990s, modern "girl groups" like En Vogue, Jade, and SWV could be heard echoing the harmonies popularized by the Shirelles.
The four original Shirelles were from Passaic, New Jersey. They began singing together as the Poquellos, and their first live performances took place at high school talent shows. A fellow classmate, Mary Jane Greenberg, heard the group at one of these shows and convinced them to audition for her mother, Florence, who had recently launched a career in the music business. The quartet auditioned in Florence Greenberg's living room, after which she signed them to a five-year contract with her fledgling Tiara label and took over as their manager.
The Shirelles owed much of their early success to Greenberg's creativity and business savvy. She was a remarkable entrepreneur whose life story has been developed into a Hollywood film, with Bette Midler slated to tackle the leading role. Unsatisfied with her life as a housewife during the 1950s, she entered the music industry with a strong love of music but no formal background and, as she told Bill Forman of the NARAS Journal, "took a little office at 1674 Broadway hoping somebody would walk in." Over the years a number of future music stars walked in, including songwriters Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Hal David, and Burt Bacharach and performers Dionne Warwick and the Isley Brothers.
After their initial audition, the Poquellos, renamed the Shirelles after Alston's given name, recorded two sides for Greenberg, "I Met Him on a Sunday" and "I Want You To Be My Boyfriend." The single sold well locally, and Greenberg arranged with Decca Records to distribute the record nationally. Released in 1958, "Sunday" would remain on the charts for nearly three months, peaking at Number 50.
In 1959, Greenberg formed a new label called Scepter Records; this company would become a major force in the music business, warranting the issue in 1992 of The Scepter Records Story, a 65-track retrospective of the label. One of her first accomplishments as head of Scepter was the hiring of gifted producer and songwriter Luther Dixon, who had worked for such nationally known performers as Pat Boone, Perry Como, and Nat "King" Cole. Dixon developed a distinctive sound for the early Shirelles records, in which a solid rhythm and blues beat was complemented by lush string arrangements.
Dixon's first recording with the Shirelles was "Dedicated to the One I Love," a song originally popularized by the Five Royales. The single did well in New York and crested nationally at Number 83; it was a promising start for the new label, but both Dixon and Greenberg knew the Shirelles deserved a wider audience. In the summer of 1960, they released "Tonight's the Night," a catchy number featuring Kenner's heartfelt vocals and an irresistible West Indian beat; the record stayed on the charts for three months and rose to Number 39.
Later in 1960, Dixon heard a demo of a country western song by a young singer-songwriter named Carole King. He was entranced by the tune and took it to the Shirelles. The group initially disliked the song, but after King and her cowriter, Gerry Goffin, reworked it--shortening it and giving it a rock beat--they decided to record it. The transformed "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" brought the Shirelles international fame and cemented the careers of King and Goffin.
"Will You Love Me Tomorrow" was one of the true treasures of the early rock era, thanks largely to Alston's moving, almost painfully honest vocal performance. In his book Girl Groups, Alan Betrock commented, "Here was a record that you felt--that carried you on effortlessly to totally warm and secure terrain." The public was quick to take the song to its heart; after entering the Top 100 at Number 88 in late 1960, the single climbed steadily, reaching the top spot early the following year. The record also reached Number Four in England and Number Six in Australia and created such a demand for more music from the Shirelles that Greenberg rereleased "Dedicated to the One I Love." It quickly shot up the charts as well and in February of 1961 joined "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in the Top Ten.
For the next six years the Shirelles continued to bring fame and wealth to both themselves and Greenberg's record company. 1961 saw the release of "Mama Said" and "Baby, It's You," both of which reached the Top Ten, and in 1962, "Soldier Boy" became the group's second Number One record. They toured widely, often with such well-known pop artists as Ray Charles, Dion, and the Coasters, and in 1963 recorded several songs for the soundtrack of the film It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, World. But in 1967, the Shirelles would chart for the last time, with "Last Minute Miracle."
In 1968, Kenner left the group, and Alston, Lee, and Harris carried on as a trio, occasionally making new recordings and performing their old hits on the nostalgia circuit. Then, in the mid-1970s, Kenner returned and the group toured again as a quartet, until Harris's untimely death from a heart attack--suffered during a performance--in June of 1982. But even the loss of one of the original members did not bring an end to the Shirelles; by 1990 there were three separate groups touring under the name, each led by one of the surviving members.
by Jeffrey Taylor
Shirelles, The's Career
Group formed as the Poquellos for school talent shows, Passaic, NJ; "discovered" by Florence Greenberg and signed with her Tiara label, 1958; recorded "I Met Him on a Sunday"; signed with Greenberg's Scepter Records, 1959, and recorded "Dedicated to the One I Love" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"; scored last chart entry, 1967; recorded and toured on nostalgia circuit; surviving members formed and led separate versions of the Shirelles.
Shirelles, The's Awards
Three gold records; awards from performance rights society Broadcast Music Inc., U.S.O., Vietnam Veterans of America, and U.S. Army; named best female group in Billboard and Cash Box for five consecutive years; citation in Congressional Record, 1983, in honor of the group's 25th anniversary.
- Selective Works
- Baby It's You Scepter, 1962, reissued, Sundazed, 1993.
- (With Curtis "King Curtis" Ousley) The Shirelles & King Curtis Give a Twist Party Scepter, 1962, reissued, Sundazed, 1993.
- Anthology, 1959-1965 Rhino, 1986.
- Greatest Hits Impact, 1987.
- Lost and Found Impact, 1987.
- Greatest Hits Special, 1991.
- Dedicated to You Pair, 1991.
- Golden Classics Collectables, 1992.
- The Scepter Records Story Capricorn, 1992.
- Million Sellers Laurie, 1993.
- Foolish Little Girl reissued, Sundazed, 1993.
- Sing to Trumpets and Strings Sundazed, 1993.
- Betrock, Alan, Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound, Delilah, 1982.
- Warner, Jay, The Billboard Book of American Singing Groups, Billboard, 1992.
- Periodicals Rolling Stone, October 1992.
- NARAS Journal, Fall 1992.
- Additional information for this profile was provided by Bevi Corp., 1993.
Shirelles, The Lyrics
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