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The Shirelles were an American girl group in the early 1960s, and the first to have a number one single on the Billboard Hot 100. The members of the quartet were 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), Beverly Lee, and Addie 'Micki' Harris McPherson.
The quartet formed in New Jersey in 1958, and went on to release a string of hits including "Baby It's You" (written by Burt Bacharach/Mack David/Barney Williams), "Mama Said", "Foolish Little Girl", and the US #1 Pop hits "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (Gerry Goffin/Carole King) and "Soldier Boy" (Florence Greenberg/Luther Dixon). Their "Sha La La" became an international hit when covered by the British group Manfred Mann, giving them a Top 5 hit in 1965. The Beatles covered the song “Boys”. They also covered "Baby It's You" on their album Please, Please Me in 1963. A year later, this same Burt Bacharach/Mack David song was also a Top 30 hit in the UK for Sheffield-born singer Dave Berry.
The Shirelles were the first major female vocal group of the rock and roll era, preceding Motown as a crossover phenomenon with white audiences. Unlike The Chantels, who had had their first hit in 1957, they were successful in Britain, first and foremost with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" (1960). In addition, they provided some of the earliest hits for important Brill Building songwriters like Gerry Goffin & Carole King, Burt Bacharach & Hal David, and Van McCoy.
The Shirelles were originally formed in 1958 in Passaic, New Jersey, by four friends: Shirley Owens Alston Reeves, Doris Coley Kenner Jackson, Addie "Micki" Harris McPherson, and Beverly Lee. 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); she 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.
"Dedicated to the One I Love" (1959), a song they learned by heart after seeing The "5" Royales perform in a show they did together, and "Tonight's the Night" (1960) 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 [US]; and "Mama Said" did the same. A more R&B-flavored outing, "Big John," also went to #2 that year. 1962 continued their run of success, most notably 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 (subbing for Reeves and Jackson when each took a leave of absence to get married). 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 where their run was essentially over. This was also due in part to the British Invasion, whose 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.
Reeves recorded both as 'Lady Rose' (on the Scepter Strawberry subsidiary) and Shirley Alston for moonlighting Motown executive Barney Ales' Prodigal label until the label was purchased by Motown. That year, she recorded the album "With a Little Help From My Friends", in which such rock-and-roll luminaries as Shep and the Limelites, The Five Satins, Lala Brooks of The Crystals, Danny & the Juniors, The Flamingos, and The Drifters sang along with Reeves. Reeves' nephew is Gerald Alston, lead singer of The Manhattans singing group.
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 along with Fanita James and Gloria Jones of The Blossoms and occasionally, Carolyn Willis formerly of The Honey Cone; and Beverly Lee fronting the other (which featured Eloise Whittiker).
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. This meant that promoters would look for an authentic Shirelle to be featured in the group. They reunited briefly for a program honoring them at the high school they attended in Passaic, New Jersey and sang background on Dionne Warwick's 1983 recording of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” found on her "How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye?" album. They had previously sung background for her on the song "Get Rid of Him", an answer to their own "Foolish Little Girl", on Warwick's 'Make Way For Dionne Warwick' album.
The Shirelles made a special guest appearance on Bo Diddley's 1996 album A Man Amongst Men, singing background vocals on the tracks "Bo Diddley is Crazy", "Hey Baby" and "Oops! Bo Diddley".
Beverly Lee eventually secured the official trademark for the group's name. The members of the group have also 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. Doris Jackson died at the age of 58 from breast cancer in Sacramento, California, on February 4, 2000. Following her death, James and Jones reformed the Blossoms.
In September 2008, the Shirelles' hometown of Passaic 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".