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Girl Groups, Part One: the Doowop Era

by Glynis Ward

shirelles_1.jpg
The Shirelles, ca. 1964.

Female doo wop groups are held close to the heart of a small and select group of record collectors who appreciate these girls' contribution to the street corner sounds of 50s America. Few female vocal groups (especially black groups) were recording as early as 1954, the dawn of the doo wop sound, but by its heyday, in 1956, labels such as Mercury and Capitol were signing all-girl groups. Many of the smaller, independent labels also included a female group in their roster although they rarely proved to be as popular as their male counterparts. Only a handful of doo wopping girls ever had a hit record. Select groups, such as the Shirelles, Chantels and Chiffons did enjoy the longevity that most all-male bands did not, as they were able to cross over to the girl group sounds of the early 1960s.

Doo wop records are generally classed between the dates of 1955 and 1959 and focus on a harmonious blend of voices as practised by urban youth. It was a cleaner sound than pure r&b and rock 'n roll which were mainly adopted by white youths. Doo Wop, which frequently did embrace white groups, mainly appealed to black record buyers who prefered the sweet sounds of gospel influenced harmonies.

tassels_1.jpg
The Tassels on the Madison label, "The Boy for Me", B-side of "To a Soldier Boy", 1959. Recorded in simulated stereo!

The girl groups presented here blur the lines of doo wop’s "classic period", starting as early as 1954 and continuing until the real development of the girl group sound which began in 1962. The most well-known female doo wop groups include: the early Shirelles, early Chantels, the Cookies, early Patti Labelle And The Bluebells, the Bobettes, the Teen Queens, early Chiffons, Ronnie And The Relatives (pre-Ronettes) and the Primettes (Diana Ross pre-Supremes). Groups with sizable record output include these doo wop (or doo wop related) groups: Quin-Tones, Shepherd (or Sheppherd) Sisters, the Poni Tails, Miller Sisters, the Kittens, and the Baby Dolls.
The original pressing of the Chantels LP, "We are the Chantels", (End Records LP-301) featured a photo with the group donned in antebellum dresses. This cover was pulled when there was an outcry that the cover was racially typecast. The highest bid on one of these rare LPs from February to July 2000 on eBayTM was $610.01 on May 22.

Despite their output and popularity during their heyday, the history of these groups is little-known except to a small group of fans.

There is a much larger grouping of female doo wop groups who recorded only one single on obscure labels. Due to the small quantity of records pressed, and the amount of time which has passed since the 50s, these records are very obscure and hard to find. They can be expensive and highly sought after with fierce competition. Many female doo wop records are merely female fronted male bands who recorded just one side of a record, (or usually just one single, both sides).

Below are some web sites for more information. Some of these sites have "jukeboxes" for listening to songs over the Internet.

Discography of Madison records
The Pete Chaston Doo Wop show, live on the internet
Internet jukebox of Doo Wop from the 50's and 60's




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