In 1957 there were four friends at the Passaic High School, New York, who performed a song of their own composition entitled I Met Him On A Sunday, at the school's talent show under the name of the Poquellos. The four were named Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie "Micki" Harris and Beverly Lee. One of their classmates, Mary Jane Greenberg introduced them to her mother Florence Greenberg, who was setting up her own record label under the name Tiara.
So in 1958 they were persuaded into a recording studio, and I Met Him On A Sunday was released on Tiara records under the name The Shirelles (1). The single came out in March 1958 and sold enough locally to interest Decca, who bought the masters. The record eventually reached no 49 in the Billboard charts, but the next two singles went nowhere.
Decca then dropped the group and handed them back to Greenberg. Armed with the money from the Decca deal she started again with Scepter Records and relaunched the group. The Shirelles first Scepter record was a remake of the Five Royales' 1957 release Dedicated To The One I Love which got no further than no 83. Two other singles followed and failed to chart.
Realising that something more was needed, Greenberg managed to persuade Luther Dixon, an experienced songwriter and producer that had previously worked with The Platters amongst others, to join Scepter. Under his guidance the group recorded a Owens/Dixon composition, Tonight's the Night that became a minor hit. But it was the Carole King and Gerry Goffin song Tomorrow that propelled the Shirelles into national (and international) prominence. Better known as Will You Love Me Tomorrow (2), it made no 1, and has the distinction of being the first record by a black female group to ever do so (3).
The following singles, a reissue of Dedicated To the One I Love and Mama Said also reached the top 10, confirming the success of the group.In 1962 Baby It's You reached no 8, and they had a second number one record with the Dixon/Greenberg composition Soldier Boy, which they followed with further hits Welcome Home Baby, Stop the Music, and Everybody Loves a Lover.
Their last real hit was Foolish Little Girl which reached no 4 in 1963; Luther Dixon then left for Capitol Records, and without his production skills the Shirelles were never quite the same. Scepter continued to release singles by the Shirelles through until 1968, but not one of twenty-three releases managed to dent the top twenty (4). Eventually the group left Scepter Records in 1968, Doris Coley left, became Doris Kenner-Jackson and came back again, they continued recording and touring, but never again achieved any kind of commercial or critical success.
The important thing to remember about the Shirelles was that essentially provided the prototype for the girl group concept that was to prove consistently successful throughout the sixties and beyond (cf The Supremes et al). They showed what was possible, and paved the way for other Black American artists in the pop world.
Selective album discography
- Sing To Trumpets And Strings (1961)
- Baby It's You (1962)
- Foolish Little Girl (1963)
- Lost & Found-Rare & Previously Unreleased (1994)
with King Curtis
- Give A Twist Party (1962)
That's selective as in what appears to be currently (August 2001) available on CD, and ignoring the plethora of compilation-greatest-hit type releases.
(1) Chosen apparently, by Florence Greenberg on the basis that it was more "commercial".
(2) Or even Will You (Still) Love Me Tomorrow; opinions seem to differ.
(3) It is said that the Shirelles initially refused to record the song, believing that it sounded "too white" but were pressurised into recording it by Luther Dixon. One understands what they meant.
(4) In truth Scepter now had Dionne Warwick and were less interested in the group. The Shirelles in turn were tied into Scepter by their recording contract.