Shirley Ellis was a popular singer in the 1960's when she placed three songs in the top ten, following a number of years of working in the music business as a songwriter and performer.
Shirley Marie Elliston was born in the Bronx section of New York City in 1941, of West Indian ancestry. There were opportunities for ambitious young people in the music business in New York City in the 1950's, and Shirley began writing songs. She had success early with a song she wrote titled One, Two, I Love You, which was recorded by the Heartbreakers in 1957. She also performed as a singer with a group called the Metronomes in the 50's, once winning an award at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem.
In 1959 Shirley became acquainted with talented 33-year-old songwriter/producer Lincoln Chase, who became her manager and songwriting partner. Chase had written some songs that had become quite popular in the 50's, including Jim Dandy (LaVern Baker) and Such A Night (the Drifters, Johnnie Ray, Elvis Presley). He wrote a song for Shirley titled The Nitty Gritty, and arranged for her to record on the Congress label, which was a subsidiary of Kapp. The record label changed her name to Shirley Ellis. The Nitty Gritty was released in late 1963 and a short time later went top ten. Some sources say that Shirley married Lincoln Chase, although others report her husband's name as Alphonso Elliston. After years of working as a songwriter and performer, Shirley Ellis became well known to a national audience through her success with The Nitty Gritty. She followed with a sequel that became a minor hit, (That's) What The Nitty Gritty Is and another titled simply Puzzle Song. Many of Shirley's records featured a driving sax, and lots of percussion.
Shirley recalled some words from a childhood game she had played and discussed them with Lincoln Chase, who rearranged them into a song; The Name Game came out in early 1965 and was quite popular, rising to number three. It was followed a few months later by another song with nursery-rhyme style lyrics that went top ten for Shirley Ellis, The Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap). Shirley appeared on a number of television shows in the 60's including Hullabaloo, Shindig, American Bandstand, and Where The Action Is.
She went to other labels such as Columbia and Bell Records. She continued to work with Lincoln Chase and had a few minor hits before retiring from show business in the late 60's. Some of Shirley's songs have appeared in movies and some have been covered by other artists over the years such as Bob Kuban and the In-Men, Gary Glitter, and the Belle Stars. The most successful of these was Gladys Knight and The Pipps' 1969 version of The Nitty Gritty.
Shirley Ellis' run in the top forty lasted for about eighteen months in the mid-60's, long enough for her to make her mark with some fun songs.
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