The Shirelles

The Shirelles were one of the first and most successful of the fabulous "girl groups," even though unlike many of the others they were not aligned with Motown or Phil Spector.

The girls were from Passaic, New Jersey where they first formed in 1958 as the Poquellos. The original members were lead singer Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Addie "Micki" Harris and Doris Coley; all were born in 1940 or 1941. They went to school with Mary Jane Greenberg, and in 1958 Mary Jane's mother Florence signed them to the small Tiara label that she owned. They changed their name to the Honeytones, then to the Shirelles, and recorded a song that they had written themselves titled I Met Him On A Sunday. The record sold very well and as a result it was picked up by Decca and made it into the top fifty. I Met Him On A Sunday is regarded by many as the first of the "girl group" songs.

Florence Greenberg knew a good thing when she saw it, and formed her own new Scepter label and signed the Shirelles to record for it. She took a song that had been written by Lowman Pauling of the 5 Royales in 1957 [Ralph Bass also was credited as a writer] and gave it to her new group. Although it was uncommon for a song to reach the charts without being distributed by a major label, the Shirelles did just that in 1959 with Dedicated To The One I Love. The song was later covered successfully by the Mamas & The Papas. Next up was Tonight's The Night, and the girls had their first song to crack the top forty. Then they came up with a huge hit.

The Shirelles recorded a song that had been written by the Brill Building songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. At first titled simply Tomorrow, the song was re-released as Will You Love Me Tomorrow and reached number one early in 1961. Then the label reissued Dedicated To The One I Love followed by Mama Said, and both made it to the top five. Baby It's You, a song that had been written by Burt Bacharach and lyricist Mack David [brother of Bacharach's songwriting partner, Hal David], went top ten. Then the label released the sentimental Soldier Boy which was to become the group's second number one song.

It was quite a run of successful records. Eventually Luther Dixon, who had written Mama Said and Soldier Boy in addition to a number of other popular songs, left the Scepter label. The Shirelles continued to have hits in 1962, among them Welcome Home Baby and Everybody Loves A Lover. In 1963 they put their final top ten effort on the charts with Foolish Little Girl, which had been written by Howard Greenfield and Helen Miller. They had one more song reach the top forty, Don't Say Goodnight And Mean Goodbye, in 1963. They had some songs that did not do as well, and left the charts completely after 1967.

The British Invasion was launched and the Shirelles were one of the casualties of its emergence. But not before the Beatles themselves paid homage to the influence of the great girl group by putting two Shirelles' songs on the Beatles' first album: Boys, a Luther Dixon song that had failed, and Baby It's You.

The Shirelles went on the oldies circuit in the 70's. Inevitably the cast was altered somewhat. Doris Coley married and became Doris Kenner (then, Doris Jackson); she left the group in 1968, then returned in 1975. Shirley Owens became Shirley Alston, and in 1975 she left for a solo career, recording as Lady Rose. The same year she recorded an album titled With A Little Help From My Friends, a title that was borrowed from a Beatles' song. And what friends they were -- appearing on the album along with Shirley were such rock-and-roll luminaries as Shep and the Limelites, The Five Satins, Lala Brooks of the Crystals, Danny and the Juniors, the Flamingos, and the Drifters. Micki Harris died in 1982 and was replaced by Louie Bethune. In the 80's the girls reformed once again to sing backup on a Dionne Warwick record. There is a two-disc anthology on Rhino that includes nearly all of the Shirelles hits, of which there were many.

The Shirelles were one of the great girl groups of the 60's.

Most Recent Update: July 1, 2004

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