|clockwise from top:Addie “Micki”Harris,Beverly Lee,Shirley Alston Reeves and Doris Kenner-Jackson.|
The Shirelles were formed in 1958 in Passaic, New Jersey, by four friends: Beverly Lee, Shirley Owens (the main lead singer; later known as Shirley Alston, then Shirley Alston Reeves), Doris Coley (later known as Doris Kenner, then Doris Jackson; who sang lead on "Dedicated to the One I Love," "Welcome Home Baby," "Blue Holiday" and a number of B-sides and album cuts), and Addie 'Micki' Harris McPherson.
Students at Passaic High School, they christened themselves 'the Poquellos', wrote a song called "I Met Him on a Sunday," and entered their school talent show with it, singing it a cappella. A school friend had them audition for her mother, Florence Greenberg, who ran a small record label (Tiara). Greenberg was impressed enough to become the group's manager, and changed their name to The Shirelles by combining frequent lead singer Shirley's first name with doo-woppers the Chantels.
The Shirelles' recording of "I Met Him on a Sunday" was licensed by Decca and climbed into the national Top 50 in 1958. Two more singles flopped, however, and Decca passed on further releases. Greenberg instead signed them to her new label, Scepter Records, and brought in producer Luther Dixon, whose imaginative, sometimes string-heavy arrangements helped shape the group's signature sound.
In 1959, "Dedicated to the One I Love," a song they learned by heart after seeing The "5" Royales perform in a show they did together, and "Tonight's the Night" both failed to make much of an impact on the pop charts, although the latter was a Top 20 R&B hit and Top 40 Pop hit.
However, they broke big time with the Goffin-King composition "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"; released in late 1960, it went all the way to number one on the pop chart, making them the first all-female group of the rock era to accomplish this feat; it also peaked at number two in the R&B chart. In the UK, it reached number 2 in 1961. Its success helped send a re-release of "Dedicated to the One I Love" into the Top 5 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1961; and "Mama Said" did the same. A more R&B-flavored outing, "Big John," also went to #2 that year.
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In 1962 they continued their run of success with "Soldier Boy," a Luther Dixon/Florence Greenberg tune that became their second pop #1. They also had a Top 10 pop and R&B hit with "Baby It's You."
Dixon subsequently left the label; The Shirelles managed to score one more pop/R&B Top Ten with 1963's "Foolish Little Girl," which reached #4 on the pop chart and #9 R&B, but found it difficult to maintain their previous level of success.
"Soldier Boy" also reached the Top 30 in the UK in 1962.
The group went on to record material for the film It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, headlined the first integrated concert show in Alabama, and helped a young Dionne Warwick get some of her first exposure.
A money dispute with Scepter tied up their recording schedule for a while in 1964, and although it was eventually settled, The Shirelles were still bound to a label and their string of hits was essentially over.
Compounding the problem, the British Invasion bands had been among the first to cover their songs; not only their hits, but lesser-known items like "Boys" (the Beatles) and "Sha La La" (a hit for Manfred Mann). Some of the classic covers of The Shirelles tunes, besides the ones mentioned above, include: "Dedicated to the One I Love" by The Temprees, and later the Mamas & the Papas, "Baby It's You" by The Masqueraders, and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" by Roberta Flack.
The Shirelles scraped the lower reaches of the charts a few more times, making their last appearance, ironically, with 1967's "Last Minute Miracle." Jackson left the group the following year to remarry and raise her family, and the remaining Shirelles continued as a trio, cutting singles for Bell Records as "Shirley and the Shirelles," United Artists, and RCA through 1971.
The group continued to tour the oldies circuit, however, and appeared in the 1973 documentary "Let the Good Times Roll." Shirley Alston Reeves left for a solo career in 1975, upon which point Doris Jackson returned.
Doris took a leave of absence from 1979 to 1982 and was replaced by Louise Bethune. Shortly after Doris returned, Micki Harris died of a heart attack during a performance in Atlanta on June 10, 1982. She was replaced by a returning Louise Bethune. By 1986, the group split, and the two originals formed their own groups: Coley fronting one group and Beverly Lee fronting the other.
Various groups claiming to be the Shirelles had been touring the oldies circuit in the '90s, so one group agreed to tour the West Coast while the other toured the East Coast. Beverly Lee eventually secured the official trademark for the group's name.
The members of the group have been lifelong activists in the fight for royalty reform, medical coverage, and fair treatment of and recognition for pioneering artists. They were officially inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.
In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked them #76 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" (#125) and "Tonight's the Night" (#401) both made Rolling Stone's list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
|Beverly Lee & Shirley Alston ( Reeves ) at The Vocal Group Hall of Fame Induction|
In September 2008, the Shirelles' hometown of Passaic, NJ honored the group by renaming a section of Paulison Avenue between Passaic and Pennington Avenues (the section where Passaic High School is located) "Shirelles Boulevard."
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