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'Girl group' trios gained prominence on pop music charts in the '50s and '60s

A number of girl trios rose to musical prominence during the '50s and '60s.
A number of girl trios rose to musical prominence during the '50s and '60s.

Although there were a number of girl groups on the American pop music scene prior to 1950 -- most notable among them The Andrews Sisters -- such harmonizing groups hit their stride and flourished from the mid-1950s through the 1960s.

Indeed, there was an enormous rise in girl groups with varying skills and experience, and in the aforementioned time frame, nearly 800 girl groups managed to chart at least one single.

As songwriters and producers began to realize the potential of such music, they began to utilize the new approach and stepped up recruitment of girl-group trios and quartets.

Whereas many of the girl groups were foursomes -- headed by The Supremes and The Shirelles -- there were many successful trios, and this article will take a look at some of the best of them.

Much of the girl-group popularity waned with the onset of The British Invasion, although significant success continued until the end of the 1960s, but in the first half of the 1970s, the only two Top 10 hits by purely girl groups, both trios, were "Want Ads" by Honey Cone in 1971 and "When Will I See You Again" by The Three Degrees in 1973.

Here are capsule summaries of significant American girl trios of the '50s and '60s, with a link to one of their top singles, and to hear any of the recordings, simply click on the song title.

  • THE ANGELS began as The Starlets in Orange, N.J., consisting of sisters Phyllis and Barbara Allbut, lead singer Linda Malzone and Bernadette Carroll, but when Carroll went solo and Malzone left the group, Linda Jansen was briefly the lead singer before being replaced by Peggy Santiglia in 1962. MUSIC SELECTION: "My Boyfriend's Back" (No. 1, 1963), which stayed atop the Billboard charts for three weeks.
  • MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS was a Detroit trio consisting of Martha Reeves, Annette Beard and Rosalind Ashford. Lead singer Reeves had been in The Del-Phis and worked as a secretary at Motown, and before attaining success on their own, the group sang backup on a number of Marvin Gaye hits. Betty Kelly replaced Beard in 1964, and Reeves went solo in 1972. MUSIC SELECTION: "Come And Get These Memories" (No. 29, 1963)
  • THE MURMAIDS were Los Angeles teen sisters Carol and Terry Fischer, and neighbor-friend Sally Gordon, who became one-hit wonders before taking off for college in the autumn of 1963. The Fischers' father was a recording arranger and director, and their mother arranged a session at the offices of Chattahoochee Records, where Kim Fowley produced their hit single. MUSIC SELECTION: "Popsicles And Icicles" (No. 3, 1963), written by David Gates.
  • THE COOKIES were a New York City trio that underwent many personnel changes. The most-famous lineup included lead singer Earl-Jean McCrae, along with Dorothy Jones and Margaret Ross. In addition to their own hits, this trio did backing vocals for Neil Sedaka, Little Eva and Carole King, They would later become the Raelettes, the backing vocalists for Ray Charles. MUSIC SELECTION: "Don't Say Nothin' Bad" (No. 7, 1963), which also hit No. 3 on the R&B listings.
  • THE McGUIRE SISTERS -- Phyllis, Christine and Dorothy -- were from Middletown, Ohio, and they replaced The Chordettes on Arthur Godfrey And His Friends in 1953. The sisters had two national chart-toppers: "Sincerely" in 1955 and "Sugartime" in 1957. MUSIC SELECTION: "Sincerely" (No. 1, 1955), written by Harvey Fuqua and Alan Freed and originally recorded by The Moonglows, spent 10 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts.
  • THE DIXIE CUPS were from New Orleans, and they were discovered by singer-producer Joe Jones, who is most famous for his rendition of "You Talk Too Much." The trio consisted of sisters Barbara Ann and Rosa Lee Hawkins, plus cousin Marie Johnson. MUSIC SELECTION: "Chapel Of Love" (No. 1, 1964), which, when it hit the top of the Billboard charts for a three-week run on June 6, 1964, was only the second single -- outside of Louis Armstrong's "Hello Dolly" -- to break The Beatles' grip on the No. 1 spot.
  • THE TOYS consisted of lead singer Barbara Harris, backed by June Montiero and Barbara Parritt, and they got together at Woodrow Wilson High School in Jamaica, N.Y. The trio had only two hit singles: "A Lover's Concerto" in 1955 and "Attack", which charted at No. 18 in 1966. MUSIC SELECTION: "A Lover's Concerto" (No. 2, 1965), with a melody based on "Minuet in G major" from Bach's Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach.
  • THE DIXIEBELLES were a Memphis group consisting of Shirley Thomas, Mary Hunt and Mildred Pratcher. After success with "Down At Papa Joe's", a follow-up titled "Southtown U.S.A." went to No. 15. MUSIC SELECTION: "Down At Papa Joe's" (No. 9, 1963), produced by Bill Justis with backing from pianist Jerry Smith.
  • THE PARIS SISTERS were Albeth, Priscilla and Sherrell from San Francisco, and they first recorded for Decca in 1954. Five of their songs earned a place in the Billboard Hot 100. MUSIC SELECTION: "I Love How You Love Me" (No. 5, 1961), produced by Phil Spector.
  • THE PONI-TAILS were formed at Brush High School in Lyndhurst, Ohio, consisting of lead singer Toni Cistone, along with LaVerne Novak and Patti McCabe. They first recorded for the Point label in 1957, but they only had one significant single. MUSIC SELECTION: "Born Too Late" (No. 7, 1958), arranged and produced by Don Costa.
  • THE FLIRTATIONS consisted of Shirley and Earnestine Pearce from South Carolina and Viola Billups from Alabama. The Pearce sisters originally were a part of a girl group called The Gypsies from 1962 to 1965, and as The Flirtations, they had a number of flops before finally achieving a significant Northern Soul single. MUSIC SELECTION: "Nothing But A Heartache" (No. 34, 1969), written and produced by Englishman Wayne Bickerton.
  • THE FONTANE SISTERS were Margie, Bea and Geri from Milford, N.J., whose actual surname was Rosse. They backed Perry Como on many of his early hits, and on their own, they had 20 tunes reach the Billboard Hot 100. MUSIC SELECTION: "Hearts Of Stone" (No. 1, 1954), which spent 20 weeks in the Billboard Top 40, including three at No. 1.
  • THE BONNIE SISTERS weren't really sisters. Rather, they were Pat Ryan, Sylvia Totter and Jean Borgia, who were all nurses at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. They began singing together at work, and after performing on Arthur Godfrey's TV show, they were signed by Mickey Baker to Rainbow Records and changed their name to The Bonnie Sisters. MUSIC SELECTION: "Cry Baby" (No. 18, 1956), originally recorded by The Scarlets.
  • THE IKETTES, formed for the Ike & Tina Turner Revue, consisted of lead singer Dolores Jackson, Eloise Hester and Jo Armstead. They first accompanied Ike and Tina Turner on their first recording, "A Fool in Love", in 1960. MUSIC SELECTION: "I'm Blue" (No. 19, 1962) with Tina Turner on backup vocals.

[You may subscribe to Bill Herald's oldies music columns -- free of charge -- by clicking on "subscribe" near the top of the column, after which you will receive e-mail notification each time a new item is published.]

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