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SWEET SOUL MUSIC:

A Farewell to Doris Coley-Kenner Jackson
--Darrell Gordon, Sandpaper Collective

Doris Coley-Kenner Jackson, one of the lead singers of the Shirelles, died February 4, from breast cancer. She was 58 years old.

Jackson, along with Shirley Owens Alston Reeves, the late Addie "Micki" Harris, and Beverly Lee, began singing in the gym at Passaic High School in Passaic, New Jersey, as The Poquellos in 1957. Their teacher encouraged them to perform in the school's talent show. The Poquellos wrote a song in which they each lead called, "I Met Him on a Sunday." Their school friend Mary Jane Greenberg persuaded The Poquellos to audition for her mother Florence Greenberg's record company, Tiera. Greenberg liked the Poquellos and they recorded "I Met Him on a Sunday." The song was released on both the Tiera and Decca labels for national distribution, and the group renamed as The Shirelles partly named after Shirley Reeves, by the suggestion of Greenberg. "I Met Him on a Sunday" reached No. 5 on the pop charts.

Decca issued two more flops by The Shirelles before Greenberg started another company called Scepter, and brought in the group to do a remake of The Five Royales' "Dedicated to the One I Love" in 1959, with Jackson singing lead. The record went only to No. 83 on the Billboard pop charts, but then it was re-released following the crossover success of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in 1961. This time, it peaked at No. 3 on the pop charts and No. 2 on the rhythm and blues charts.

The Shirelles made their network television debut on The Dick Clark Beechnut Show on ABC-TV. In 1960, it was decided by Scepter Records that Reeves was to become the featured lead singer on the group's A-sides, beginning with their first top 40 pop hit, "Tonight's the Night," which introduced them on American Bandstand for the first of three appearances.

Jackson continued to sing leads on B-sides like "Blue Holiday" and "Pretty Words" in 1961, and shared leads with Reeves on such hits as "Welcome Home Baby" in 1962, and "Foolish Little Girl" in 1963, as well as singing on various album fillers.

The Shirelles were able to successfully crossover into the pop charts during the early 1960s, with lightweight innocent cute bubblegum lyrics about finding or losing an ideal male love with string arrangements. Some white fans were surprised that The Shirelles were African-American womyn in the integrated rock and roll revues because The Shirelles were rarely seen on TV and their faces weren't always on their album covers.

Despite that The Shirelles became the most popular female and the most popular African-American group on the pop charts between 1960 and 1963, with two No. 1 pop hits "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" in 1961 and "Soldier Boy" in 1962 they were never invited to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show and the Steve Allen Show, due to racism and sexism. The first rock and roll female group to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show was The Angels in 1963; this white female group achieved fewer hits than the Shirelles and other African-American female groups during the early 1960s.

The Shirelles' career suffered during the rest of the 1960s because the Top 40 radio and TV industries heavily marketed the British Invasion as well as the slicker sound and glamourous image of The Supremes, not to mention the final breakthrough of pure gospel and southern blues-influenced soul music. The Beatles regarded The Shirelles as their all-time favorite female group and recorded versions of the Shirelles' tunes "Boys" and "Baby It's You" on their albums.

The Shirelles' suing of Scepter Record for money they never received also contributed to the group's career downfall, and as did Scepter Records' priority in grooming Diane Warwick, who by the way was a stand-in Shirelle during the early 1960s.

Jackson left The Shirelles in 1968 but rejoined the group in 1975, and sang with the Shirelles on rock and roll oldies revival circuit and TV shows such as Dinah; Reeves departed from the group to pursue a solo career.

During the 1990s, there were three groups of Shirelles, each featuring one original member. Earlier, Micki Harris had passed away in 1982, following a heart attack. The Shirelles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996.


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