The Shirelles Biography

Formed in Passaic, New Jersey, USA, the Shirelles are possibly the archetypal ‘girl-group’; Shirley Owens (10 June 1941, Passaic, New Jesey, USA), Beverly Lee (b. 3 August 1941), Doris Kenner (b. Doris Coley, 2 August 1941, North Carolina, USA, d. 5 February 2000, Sacramento, California, USA) and Addie ‘Micki’ Harris (b. 22 January 1940, d. 10 June 1982) were initially known as the uncomfortably named Poquellos. School friends for whom singing was simply a pastime, the quartet embarked on a professional career when a classmate, Mary Jane Greenberg, recommended them to her mother. Florence Greenberg, an aspiring entrepreneur, signed them to her Tiara label, on which the resultant single, ‘I Met Him On A Sunday’, was a minor hit. This inspired the inauguration of a second outlet, Scepter Records, where the Shirelles secured pop immortality with ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow’. Here, Alston’s tender, aching vocal not only posed the crucial question, but implied that she already had decided ‘yes’ to her personal dilemma. One of pop’s most treasured recordings, it was followed by a series of exceptional singles, ‘Mama Said’ (1961), ‘Baby It’s You’ (1962) and ‘Foolish Little Girl’ (1963), which confirmed their exemplary position.

The Shirelles’ influence on other groups, including those in Britain, is incalculable, and the Beatles, the Merseybeats and Manfred Mann are among those who covered their work. The quartet’s progress was dealt a crucial setback when producer and arranger Luther Dixon left to take up another post. Newer Scepter acts, including Dionne Warwick, assumed the quartet’s one-time prime position, while a punitive record contract kept the group tied to the label. By the time the Shirelles were free to move elsewhere, it was too late to enjoy a contemporary career and the group was confined to the ‘oldies’ circuit. Alston left for a solo career in 1975. Harris died of a heart attack in June 1982 following a performance in Atlanta. By combining sweetening strings with elements of church music and R&B, the Shirelles exerted an unconscious pivotal influence on all female vocal groups. They were inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1996.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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