The Shirelles





The year was 1958, when a quartet of young, high school girls, Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Addie Harris and Doris Coley, entered a local talent show and walked away with first place. Calling themselves The Poquellos, they sang at school parties and dances and based their shows around their own composition, "I Met Him on a Sunday". They were heard by a classmate, Mary Jane Greenberg, who recommended them to her mother, Florence, the owner of a small record label called Tiara Records. Florence offered the girls a chance to record their song and suggested that they change their name to something easier to pronounce. At first they chose The Honeytones, then in a vague reference to their lead singer, Shirley Owens, settled on The Shirelles. Florence herself supervised the recording of "I Met Him On A Sunday" and released it as an independent single. The song caught on locally and Tiara leased it to Decca Records for national distribution, where it eventually reached #49 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart. After the record's success, all four members dropped out of high school, but each would get their diplomas later.

Florence Greenberg knew a good thing when she saw it, and formed her own new label, Scepter Records in 1959, and after months of coaxing, signed The Shirelles to a contract. Their first recording was a Luther Dixon and Shirley Owens song called "Tonight's The Night", which peaked at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the Fall of 1960. The girls began appearing as a support act with some of the day's biggest artists, including Etta James and Little Richard. Next out of the gate was Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow", which went on to become the first Billboard number one hit by an African-American girl group. The song was later used as the title track for their debut album. February, 1961 brought "Dedicated To The One I Love", which enjoyed a fourteen week stay in the US Top 40, peaking at #3. Three months later, a song called "Mama Said" climbed to #4, establishing The Shirelles as a genuine hit making machine. However, not everything they released became a success. After enduring a couple of flops with "A Thing Of The Past", which stalled at #46, and "What A Sweet Thing That Was", that quit at #87, a song called "Big John" clawed its way to #21 in late 1961. The following year, The Shirelles helped launched the career of another songwriter, Burt Bacharach, whose "Baby It's You" became a #8 hit for the girls in early January.

Around the same time The Shirelles were in the studio for a new LP and recorded a song called "Soldier Boy" in one take, intending it to be an album filler. A few months later it was released as a single, climbing to #3 on the R&B chart and #1 on the Pop chart, becoming the biggest selling song of the group's career. From there The Shirelles scored some additional hits with "Welcome Home Baby" (#22) and "Everybody Loves A Lover" (#19). The next year they put their final Top Ten effort on the charts with "Foolish Little Girl", which reached #4 on the Hot 100 and #9 on the R&B chart. The song also became the title track to their 1963 album. Unfortunately, with the dawn of the British Invasion on the horizon, they had only one more song reach the Top 40, "Don't Say Goodnight And Mean Goodbye", which reached #26 in the Summer of 1963. Their last single to chart was "Last Minute Miracle", which peaked at #99 in August of 1967.

In the mid-'60s, The Shirelles left Scepter Records after a disagreement with Florence Greenberg, but because of legal ties to the label, the group was unable to sign elsewhere, and Scepter continued to issue backlogged Shirelles material, none of which made any significant impact. In 1967, The Shirelles, finally freed from their contract, signed with Mercury Records. After a few failed singles, Doris Coley split from the group to spend time with her family, and the remaining members fragmented.

The Shirelles re-formed in the early '70s and started performing on the oldies circuit. Doris returned in 1975 to replace Shirley who left for a solo career, recording as Lady Rose. On her own, Shirley recorded an album titled "With A Little Help From My Friends", and what friends they were!. Appearing on the LP along with Shirley were such Rock 'n' Roll luminaries as Shep And The Limelites, The Five Satins, Lala Brooks of The Crystals, Danny And The Juniors, The Flamingos, and The Drifters. The Shirelles continued as a trio, but never matched their earlier success. Their last non-retrospective LP was "Let's Give Each Other Love" in 1976. They continued to perform until Addie Harris' death from a heart attack following a performance in Atlanta in 1982. Doris, Beverly and Shirley would come together once more to record on Dionne Warwick's 1983 album, "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye", which featured a new version of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?"

The Shirelles were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. Prior to the induction ceremony, the three surviving members returned to where it all started, their high school in Passaic, NJ. There, the Passaic High School Auditorium was re-named The Shirelle Auditorium, and bears a plaque honoring them which reads: Dedicated To The Ones We Love. Doris Coley died of breast cancer on February 5th, 2000, at the age of 58. In 2004, Rolling Stone magazine ranked The Shirelles at #76 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. In September, 2008, The Shirelles' hometown of Passaic, New Jersey honored the group by renaming a section of Paulison Avenue as Shirelles Boulevard. The ceremony was attended by both surviving Shirelles, Shirley Owens and Beverly Lee. The Shirelles' story was told in a musical revue called Baby It's You!, which appeared on Broadway for 148 performances, opening at the Broadhurst Theatre on April 27th, 2011 and closing on September 4th of that same year. The use of their likenesses without permission led to Lee, as well as the estates of Coley and Harris, to sue Warner Brothers. That suit was settled out of court in December, 2011.