ronettesGirl bands have always been type-cast as either squeaky clean family entertainers or sexual rock’n’roll vixens. Merry Chandler takes a look at the original girl bands of the Sixties to find out more about the images of female entertainers.

Ever since The Boswell Sisters raised the bar in the Thirties by rejecting the silly comedic tones adopted by girls in vaudeville singing acts, a precedent was set for groomed-to-perfection female groups such as The Andrews Sisters, for whom synchronized, precision outfits needed to be just as harmonized as the singing did. The rest of the Forties and early Fifties saw plenty of other such performers carry on as the Andrews did, but what was to be the definitive girl-group sound of the next decade is credited to a recording for a little known group called The Chantels with their hit ‘Maybe’ in 1958.

Then arrived The Shirelles, a four-piece from New Jersey, made bigger and better than their predecessors by international success. Now a plethora of others were ready to follow suit, so all over America thousands of young women saw an opportunity for commercial success by means of adopting the simple principles of the look, sound and attitude that would go on to define labels like Motown and Philles records, home to most of the truly original and essential performers in the business.

The most iconic, household names that spring to every fan’s mind when the term Sixties girl-group is mentioned – like The Supremes, The Shangri-Las, The Ronettes (pictured), Martha and the Vandellas, and so many more, distinctly fall into two camps – the saccharine sweet and the rock ‘n’ roll rebellious. The basic template of the look  and sound of girl bands at the time was artfully tweaked to appear either unashamedly sexual or reserved and innocent.


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