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Interview: Shirelles lead singer talks about stage days, love of touring

 
By Tim Malcolm
updated: 7/5/2007 4:14 AM

Before Destiny's Child, before the Go-Go's, before the Supremes ... even before the Ronettes, there was the Shirelles.

The legendary girl group was the first all-girl group to notch a U.S. No. 1 single. They were responsible for well-known songs "Mama Said," "Soldier Boy" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" One of its founding members -- lead vocalist Shirley Reeves -- will be among the handful of 50s and 60s recording legends taking the stage Saturday night at the Fox Theatre at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

The Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame -- a collection of some of the genres greatest artists and personalities -- tours throughout the United States. Among the artists featured are Jimmy Beaumont and the Skyliners, George Galfo's Mystics and the Richie Valens Review with Ernie Valens. These artists bring their gifted vocal talents to some of pop music's most gorgeous melodies, just as they had years ago.

The Shirelles were the pioneers of the girl group sound, which employed female harmonies over luscious string arrangements and Brill Building lyrics. Reeves, in a phone interview, said the Hall of Fame gives her and her contemporaries a chance to take pride in their pioneering spirit.

"It's nice to be recognized for your work because it wasn't so easy back in the day," Reeves said. "We used to do 30 one-nighters on those old Greyhound buses."

Reeves said touring and performing in the early-1960s was much more troublesome. Not only did she hit the road in a bus, but she faced discrimination on a regular basis. An all-black girl group, the Shirelles would perform regularly with white acts in sometimes hostile regions. But for the most part, people were accomodating.

"If anyone got a bit loud, they'd escorted them out of there," she said. "They were very good and treated us really nice like the ladies that we were."

The Shirelles story

The ladies -- Reeves, Doris Jackson, Beverly Lee and Addie "Micki" Harris -- formed as high school friends in 1958 in Passaic, N.J. After singing to a national label, they broke out with the 1960 hit "Will You Love Me Tomorrow?" That No. 1 was followed by other hits, including "Mama Said," "Soldier Boy," "Boys" and "Baby It's You."

The latter two were covered by The Beatles on their first album, "Please Please Me." John Lennon said in an interview around this time the Shirelles were his favorite girl group. And the girls are very much inspiration for some of the British Invasion music that hit the mainstream in the mid-1960s.

Today, British audiences still love girl group acts, possibly a nod to the influence they had on the movement.

"When I go over there, I have to sing songs that I can't remember the lyrics to," Reeves said. "They'll tell me: 'we know, we'll sing them.' They love that old stuff and they just appreciate it."

When doo-wopp acts perform today, they leave their most-treasured songs largely untouched, allowing fans to reminisce. And sometimes, Reeves hears compliments for not changing a thing.

"I get real tickled when people say I sound just like I did," she said. "Cause I know I don't."

Maybe the best part of being in the Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame, according to Reeves, is the times she gets to share with her contemporaries, artists she used to share the stage with.

"We were speaking about how wonderful it is, like family, we eat dinner sometimes together," she said. "We can always talk and laugh about things that happened on those tours."

If You Go

What: Doo-Wopp Hall of Fame in concert.

Where: Fox Theatre at Foxwoods Resort Casino, Rte. 2, Ledyard.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday.

Price: $45, $55.

For more information, visit www.foxwoods.com

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