The Shirelles





The year was 1958, when a quartet of young, highschool 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, 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.

Greenberg knew a good thing when she saw it, and formed her own new label, 'Scepter Records' and signed the Shirelles to a contract. She then took a song that had been done by the 5 Royales in 1957, 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", later covered by The Mamas and The Papas. Next up was 'Tonight's The Night', in 1960, and the girls had their first song to crack the top forty.

The Shirelles really made their mark in 1961, with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?", written by the young husband-and-wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The single became the first chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100 by an all-girl group in the rock era.

Later in 1961, the Shirelles released their debut LP, "Tonight's The Night", and the top-5 single "Mama Said". The following year, they helped launched the career of another songwriter, Burt Bacharach, whose "Baby It's You" went into the U.S. Top 10.

In 1962, 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 relased as a single, climbing to #3 on the R&B chart and #1 on the pop chart, becoming the group's biggest seller.

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 scored some minor hits in 1962, among them 'Welcome Home Baby' and 'Everybody Loves A Lover'. The next year, they put their final top ten effort on the charts with 'Foolish Little Girl'. They had only one more song reach the top forty, 'Don't Say Goodnight And Mean Goodbye', in 1963.

In the mid 60's, The Shirelles left Scepter after a disagreement with 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 it made much of an impact in the face of The British Invasion. In 1967, the Shirelles, finally freed from their contract, signed with Mercury Records. After a few failed singles, Doris split from the group to spend time with her family, and the group fragmented.

The Shirelles re-formed in the early 70's and went 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 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.

The Shirelles continued as a trio, but never matched their earlier success. Their last non-retrospective LP was 'Let's Give Each Other Love' (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 album, 'How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye' (1983), 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 honouring 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.