The Shirelles

  • Girl vocal group formed in 1957 from Passaic New Jersey. The members of the group were Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie Harris and Beverly Lee.
  • The four girls were high school classmates who enjoyed singing together, calling themselves the Poquellos. A teacher heard them sing, and encouraged them to enter a high school talent contest in 1957. They wrote a song for the show titled I Met Him On a Sunday and performed it at the show. A student at the show suggested that they contact her mother Florence Greenberg, who owned a record company. The girls were reluctant to do so, but after several months they were signed to the label with Greenberg as their manager. They changed their name to the Shirelles, taking the first name of lead singer Owens and adding “el” to the end, similar to other vocals groups that were popular at the time.
  • I Met Him On a Sunday was released as a single in 1958, managing to reach #50 on the Hot 100 chart. The record company was sold to another label, along with the Shirelles’ contract. After a couple of singles failed to chart, the label released them from their contract. Meanwhile, Greenberg had started a new label, and the Shirelles landed back with their old manager.
  • The Shirelles released a cover of Dedicated To the One I Love in 1959. It reached #83 on the Hot 100. The following year, Tonight’s the Night was released. It cracked the Top 40 and reached #14 on the R&B chart. This success led to them performing with higher profile artists in concerts. In November 1960 they released Will You Love Me Tomorrow. It was their breakthrough, reaching #1 on the Hot 100 and #4 in the UK. The Shirelles had the first #1 hit ever by an all-girl African American group.
  • Their debut album Tonight’s the Night was released in late 1960. It contained their earlier hit singles, and a re-recorded version of Dedicated To the One I Love that peaked at #3 on the Hot 100. From 1961 to 1963 they had a string of hits, including Mama Said (peaking at #4), Baby It’s You (#8), Soldier Boy (#1) and Foolish Little Girl (#4). Later in 1963, with the young women now 21 years old, they learned that the trust fund that Greenberg was supposed to set up for their royalties never existed. They left the label and sued, and Greenberg counter-sued. A settlement was reached in 1965.
  • As the women began to marry and have families, it became difficult for them all to be available for concerts. Dionne Warwick, who also was on Greenberg’s label, substituted for both Owens and Coley in concerts at times. The British Invasion and competition from other vocal girl groups led to a decline in popularity for the Shirelles. They released 16 singles from 1964 to 1967 but they couldn’t chart higher than #57. In 1968, Coley left to concentrate on her family, and the three remaining Shirelles continued to record into the early 70s. In 1975, Owens left to start a solo career, and Coley returned to the group.
  • Harris died of a heart attack in 1982. Coley died of breast cancer in 2000. Owens was still performing in the early 10s as Shirley Austin Reeves and Her Shirelles (Reeves was her married name). Lee acquired the trademark for the name The Shirelles, and she performed occasional concerts during the 10s with other vocalists. A Broadway musical called Baby It’s You!, based on the career of Florence Greenberg, ran for 148 performances in 2011. Lee, the estates of Coley and Harris, and Dionne Warwick sued the producers of the show, as they had not given permission for the use of their likenesses. They settled in late 2011 after the show had closed its run.
  • The Shirelles were one of the earliest girl groups and as such, they helped define the sound of the genre. In 1996 they were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Rolling Stones’ 2010 list of the Greatest Artists of All Time put them at #76. Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow is ranked #151 on Rolling Stones’ Greatest Songs of All Time list. Here they are performing the song.

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