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The Shirelles
Illustration by Gary Kelly76/100

76. The Shirelles

By Paul Shaffer

The Shirelles had a "sound," a word that people from the Sixties vocal-group era use with a lot of reverence. Shirley Alston Reeves, who did most of the group's lead vocals, wasn't a gospel shouter like Arlene Smith of the Chantels. Shirley was more sentimental and street. When she said, "Baby, it's you," you thought, "Baby, it is me."

They weren't the first girl group, but the Shirelles were the first to have many hits. They influenced everyone from the Ronettes and Motown girl groups like the Supremes to the Beatles, who covered "Baby It's You" and "Boys." The Shirelles were given some of the all-time greatest songs to sing: "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," "Soldier Boy," "Tonight's the Night," "Mama Said." But what's interesting to me is that they wrote their very first hit, "I Met Him on a Sunday," themselves, when they were still high school students in New Jersey. It was on this song that the group combined doo-wop with very accessible pop melodies: It began with the whole group singing, "Doo ron, day ron, day ron day papa, doo ron," then one of them would sing, "Well, I met him on a Sunday." It was the cutest thing.

The girl-group sound was everything to me. As a kid, I used to sit at home after school and just bang out those songs on the piano. Later in life, in the early Nineties, I witnessed a wonderful moment, when the Shirelles were honored by the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. The three living members of the group — Shirley, Beverly Lee and Doris Jackson — were at the awards ceremony. The fourth member, Addie "Micki" Harris, had died in 1982. I had heard that they hadn't seen each other in quite a while, so there was some apprehension when the three of them took the stage. They certainly hadn't planned to perform. But when Doris took her award in hand, she said, "This is dedicated to the one I love," and then they just started singing it.

They sounded fantastic. The band fell into place, and people in the audience just fell over. After that, Shirley, Beverly and Doris were having so much fun that they went into "Soldier Boy." This was a group that hadn't sung together in years, but they sounded heavenly. I was so inspired, I stood at attention and saluted. There was nothing else I could do.

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