The Chiffons





The Chiffons were formed in 1960 at James Monroe High School in the Bronx, New York. The lead singer was 14 year old Judy Craig, supported by Patricia Bennett and Barbara Lee, both 13. It was at the After School Center that they met writer/manager Ronnie Mack. Mack's claim to fame at that time was as the promoter of a local Philadelphia hit by Little Jimmy and the Tops called "Puppy Love." He was impressed with the girl's voices and soon had them under contract with Big Deal Records.

Although he was trying to sell his own material, Mack had heard the Shirelles tune, "Tonight's The Night" and thought it fit his new group perfectly. After picking the name The Chiffons out of a hat, the girls recorded "Tonight's the Night" in time to go head to head with the Shirelles' version. Having a stronger lead vocalist and fuller harmonies, The Shirelles recording climbed to #39, while The Chiffons' stalled at #76, in September of 1960.

Two years had passed when, in the Fall of 1962, Mack was hawking some his songs to a new production team in New York City, called Bright Tunes. The producers were Phil and Mitch Margo, Jay Siegel and Hank Medress, who also sang as The Tokens. They liked one of Mack's songs called "He's So Fine" and asked if he had a group to sing it. Fearing a negative response would end their interest, he said that he had a terrific group. The Tokens said "Great. Bring them in tomorrow." Mack knew he had no such group, but he also knew that The Chiffons had heard and even sung the song around school. To bolster the harmonies Mack brought in a new girl, Sylvia Peterson, who had sung with Little Jimmie And The Tops.

The Chiffons were called into the studio to record the song and in December 1962, it was released on Laurie Records. By March 20th, 1963, "He's So Fine" was the #1 record on both the Billboard Pop and R&B charts and it seemed the whole country was singing the catchy hook line, "doo-lang, doo-lang".

Their next effort, called "Lucky Me", was a total flop. Acting quickly, so as to not lose momentum, The Tokens rushed a third single by having The Chiffons sing to a track that was meant for Little Eva. That song was a Carole King - Gerry Goffin composition called "One Fine Day", which featured Carole King herself on piano. The record raced up the charts to number 5 and The Chiffons had their second smash, in June of '63.

Always thinking of ways to make the most of a good thing, The Tokens then decided to create a dual personality for the group, so at the same time that "One Fine Day" was on the charts, they recorded The Chiffons on Laurie's Rust subsidiary as The Four Pennies. The Pennies' first single was "My Block" and it reached the charts three weeks after "One Fine Day. It was a Cha-Cha rhythmed song with a sound reminiscent of Phil Spector's productions. It turned out to be a weak effort that only went to #67. In September, The Chiffons had their third Top 40 hit in four tries with "A Love So Fine". Back as the Four Pennies, their September release of "When the Boy's Happy" could only make it to #95 in November.

The Chiffons were now in great demand and began appearing on TV's American Bandstand, Hullabaloo, Shindig, as well as Murray the K's Brooklyn Fox live show, and singing commercials.

In late fall of 1963, The Chiffons released "I Have a Boyfriend", a ballad that was a Ronettes styled mix of the early '60s Rhythm And Blues and Doo Wop. It reached #36 on Billboard's Best Seller list in November, but was gone ten weeks later.

Several strong Chiffons recordings followed ("Tonight I Met an Angel", "Sailor Boy", and "What Am I Gonna Do With You"), but record buyers were caught up in the British Invasion craze and girl groups were out. All of that changed in the spring of 1966 when The Chiffons scored another Top Ten Hit with "Sweet Talkin' Guy".

After another dry spell, The Tokens moved the group from Laurie to their own label, B.T Puppy for one single called "My Secret Love" in 1968. That effort also failed to make the charts.

By 1970, The Chiffons signed with the Buddah label, singing The Tymes' tune, "So Much in Love", just as George Harrison was having his first solo hit with, "My Sweet Lord". Taken to court by the original publishers, the ex- Beatle was found guilty of plagiarism and obliged to pay substantial damages, although he always claimed the resemblance was unintentional.

When Judy Craig left The Chiffons in 1970, the group continued as a trio.

In March 1972, six years after their last chart record, British London Records issued the original recording of "Sweet Talkin Guy" on the U.K. label, Stateside. The record went to #4 in the U.K. while The Chiffons were stuck working in small clubs and didn't even have a U.S. record deal.

In 1975, after the "He's So Fine" - "My Sweet Lord" lawsuit was settled, The Chiffons, in a fascinating twist, recorded their version of "My Sweet Lord".

In 1976, Laurie Records issued the last Chiffons single, "Dream, Dream, Dream", which, to no one's surprise, failed to chart.

Various editions of The Chiffons played the oldies circuits for many years. Sadly, Barbara Lee passed away on May 15th, 1992, one day shy of her 45th birthday. After her death, Judy Craig returned to the group and they continued to perform, mostly on the East coast of America. Sylvia Peterson later left to be replaced by Connie Harvey. As late as 2009, The Chiffons were still performing.

CLASSIC TRIVIA:
The Chiffons can be heard singing backup on B.J. Thomas' hit "Rock and Roll Lullaby".