The Shirelles were first formed in 1957, for the purpose of performing in a school talent show. Their lineup, consisting of Shirley Owens, Beverly Lee, Doris Coley and Micki Harris, achieved a sound prominent enough that they were able to release their first single just the following year, “I Met Him on a Sunday.”
As their career took off in the 1960s, they would release a number of other singles such as “Tonight’s the Night,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” and one of their most popular songs, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.” They also released songs such as “Mama Said,” “Soldier Boy,” “Baby It’s You” and “Boys,” which was later covered by the Beatles for their first album.
Compared to other girl groups in America such as the Chantels, the Shirelles were known for their sweet sound. They didn’t have big gospel voices, nor did they opt for the sultry and sexy. Shirley’s voice brought out the innocent and sentimental side of their lyrics, allowing them to perform love songs in a manner that appealed to men. Shirley was essentially the girl next door of 1960s black vocal groups.
The influence that Shirley and the Shirelles had on the American music scene was profound. The Ronettes were highly influenced by their style, and they even had an impact on major girl groups from Motown such as the Supremes. What started as an amateur vocal group from New Jersey grew into a hit sensation, practically overnight. They were one of the first American girl groups to take the standard doo wop formula and imbue it with melodic pop elements, and this style would take hold as the music industry began to thirst for more talented female vocal artists with faces cute enough to sell records based on the album cover alone.
Although Micki Harris passed away in 1982, the remaining three members would briefly reunite in the 1990s during an honorary ceremony by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. It was a landmark performance, primarily due to the fact that it was completely improvisational. Doris Coley (who at that point was named Doris Jackson) led the group off on a performance of “Dedicated to the One I Love,” and the house band immediately followed suit. This was followed by a performance of “Soldier Boy,” which also had not been planned beforehand.
This performance was iconic for those who were present, as it demonstrated that the Shirelles had maintained the vocal quality that had made them such sensations to begin with. But their music itself was about more than the vocals. While their innocence and beauty may have appealed to male listeners, their songs were generally directed at young girls. This was evidenced by the lyrics, which generally referred to male subjects in the third person as opposed to the second person. In other words, their love songs were never actually directed at the supposed subjects of the songs. Later on, female recording artists such as Carole King and Joni Mitchell would occasionally adopt this same lyrical style.
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