although loosely based on The Supremes (above), the movie Dreamgirls is a job-related of fiction. The actual story that the 1960s girl groups, however, changed American music forever. Michael Ochs Archives / Corbis

With three gold Globe awards and also eight Academy award nominations, Dreamgirls has actually renewed attention in the girl groups of the 1960s as well as Motown Records, the Detroit-based firm that ended up being one the the most influential labels the the time. The movie, based upon the 1981 Broadway play, speak the story of a little black document label and its star singers who success crosses over to the pop charts. Although loosely based on The Supremes, the movie is a job-related of fiction. The actual story of the 1960s girl groups, however, adjusted American music forever.

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The girl team phenomenon got to its height in between 1960 and also 1963, though numerous scholars recognize The Chantel"s 1958 track "Maybe" together the beginning of girl groups" advertisement success. In 1961, The Shirelles reached number one on the popular music charts with "Will girlfriend Love Me Tomorrow?" That exact same year, Motown got its first pop hit with The Marvelettes" "Please Mr. Postman." A black-owned recording company having such a hit was, at the time, revolutionary.

Hundreds of girl teams recorded songs throughout the sixties, but hardly any of them to be seasoned musicians. The groups, usually comprised of 3 to 5 singers, often developed through glee clubs and also high schools, with plenty of having backgrounds in church gospel music. Your songs employed a command voice with back-up harmonies, and the music to be a hybrid of soul, rhythm and blues, pop and also 1950"s doo-wop.

"It"s sort of the woman corollary come doo-wop in ~ the beginning," says Jacqueline Warwick, writer of the brand-new book Girl Groups, Girl Culture: well-known Music and Identityin the 1960"s and also professor that music at Dalhousie University. "Whereas this teenage boys, in cities prefer Detroit, deserve to go the end on the streets and kind the roam approximately the neighborhood and also sing harmonies v each other, girls aren"t so cost-free to perform that. So they"re sit at home or collection at a friend"s house or they"re sitting on the bench during basketball practice at school, and doing the same kind the thing—harmonizing and making up songs."

It wasn"t unusual for a team to gain its huge break at a high school talent present or, choose The Dreamettes in the movie Dreamgirls, in ~ a neighborhood talent contest. In the oral background Women the Motown by veteran music critic Susan Whitall, former Marvelette Katherine Anderson Schaffner talks around her group"s Motown break: "We every sang in the college glee club; the was one of the classes we had together. They announced that they were having a talent show. When they announced that, Gladys asked why don"t we go ahead and be a component of the talent show. …We sang among The Chantels" numbers—I"m thinking it was "Maybe." us lost! But since of our performance, one of our teachers…when it come time come audition for Motown—because that was a part of what her winnings would be, come audition for Motown—she recommended the they take the top five. And we to be fourth."

The girls saw Detroit because that an audition, and eventually, lock kick-started the Motown hit device that would certainly later call itself "The Sound of Young America."Teen Culture

The success the girl groups had lot to perform with the market. The post-war infant boom had produced much more teenagers than ever before, and also the 1950s lugged the explosion of a brand-new teen society with its very own music, clothes, movies and dancing. Teenage life became synonymous with pop culture, and also with many of these teens having money come spend, the record sector flourished.

Teenagers hearne to renowned music during this time heard songs with voices the sounded prefer their own. Lock watched performers on phase who were your age. Because that American girl to check out female teams was something new. "That really had never taken place before and it yes, really hasn"t taken place since," states Warwick. "We acquire young teenage girl at front and center in mainstream pop culture."Crossing shade Lines

In the 1950s and 1960s, the R&B (Rhythm and Blues) charts were "black" charts and also the popular music charts were "white." however girl groups—from the black color The Marvelettes to the white The Shangri-Las—were famous with a mixed audience native the beginning. In Motown, founder Berry Gordy aimed to make music v widespread pop charts appeal.

Certainly white skin - man (particularly young people) had been hearne to black color music prior to girl teams came on the scene, and black artists had made the pop charts before. Nat King Cole reached the charts in 1946 with "(Get your Kicks on) route 66," which make the peak ten. In the 1950s, chuck Berry had songs in ~ the optimal of the R&B and pop charts, as did small Richard. And also it wasn"t just men—Ruth Brown"s "Mama the Treats her Daughter Mean" was number one on the R&B charts in 1953, and number 23 ~ above the popular music charts.

Yet prior to girl groups, it was much easier for a track to cross over 보다 for artist themselves come do, says Warwick. And, that course, white artists also re-recorded songs excellent by black artists. "We hear to pat Boone covering little Richard song now and also it"s just laughable," she says, "but at the moment that was a genuine phenomenon. Tiny Richard"s track "Tutti Frutti" accessibility that white suburban middle-class audience, but small Richard himself carry out that. With girl groups, that becomes more possible."

That isn"t come say teens weren"t likewise listening to the original small Richard. However in Motown, Berry Gordy knew that could accomplish both the musical and social element of crossover with well-groomed, sweet young girls.

Finding the Words

Girl teams subject issue articulated a common teenage experience, regardless of race, also as the society around them was slow-moving to record up. Castle sang to combined audiences around courtship, boys, parties, parents and also parents no letting them walk to parties to court boys. Yet they also sang around love and crushes, greatly from the position of a patiently waiting, yearning girl. This seemingly passive attitude and also general absence of depth in track subject issue makes it simple to i have dissolved girl groups music together trivial and, in modern terms, much less than radical.

But the songs were sometimes closer to actual life 보다 expected. Because that instance, "Please Mr. Postman" is in some means a classic girl group song, v a girl wait for a letter from a boy. However this song inevitably gained an interpretation from the times in i m sorry it was heard.

Schaffner of The Marvelettes talks around the song"s political meaning in Marc Taylor"s book The original Marvelettes: Motown"s an enig Girl Group. "We were all surprised when "Postman" hit so big," she says. "The many surprised to be Motown. Yet then again, hindsight is the there was a lot walk on when "Postman" was released. Us were into, or going into the Vietnam War. We had a lot of young men that were leaving home for the an initial time going into the military, and, of course, some never returned. The time of "Postman" to be excellent. Once my brother got in the military, i know just how anxious ns or my mom or sister would be trying to find a letter or something like that native him."

The girl team era was additionally the civil civil liberties era. Freedom Rides began through the south in 1961, and also in 1963 at the march on Washington, boy name Luther King Jr., delivered his "I have a Dream" speech. That exact same year, 4 teenage girl were killed in the bombing of the sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. Because of occasions like this, says Warwick, the figure of the non-white teenage girl to be being politicized in America. And the exact same non-threatening, pure high quality that to be letting black girl teams cross over into white culture was offering young women force in the civil rights movement. "If you think about the small Rock ripe in Arkansas in 1967," she says, "of nine black teenagers chosen to incorporate the schools, six of them to be girls. And all that very famous footage of Elizabeth Eckford…going to college that first day. So the emblem of the teenage girl is being imbued with a most political significance."

In the to chat world, The Supremes—arguably the many successful girl group of all time—began play venues that had actually been hard for black musicians come book. Castle were additionally among the an initial black musician to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. "For lock to it is in on Ed Sullivan—almost every mainly it appeared like—that was a tremendous, significant influence," Whitall remembers. "I was just overcome every main by this, these significant visions, lock were just such beautiful girls in this beautiful gowns, singing the music that i was hearne to every week ~ above the radio. … and I"d also think—and this is where it gets exciting racially—oh, I desire to look prefer Mary Wilson, she"s beautiful."

Even as soon as girl teams didn"t collection out do political statements or songs, the politically charged times pertained to them. In 1967, Martha and also The Vandellas were to sing in Detriot once the riots damaged out. Indigenous the stage, castle told the audience what to be happening outside. Almost everywhere they walk on tourism that summer, there were riots. Soon people started talking about how the group"s hit track "Dancing in the Streets" was around social uprising. This was no what Martha Reeves thought of once she sang the song. In Women that Motown, she says, "What I related the track to to be my endure in Rio at Carnival time, and also in brand-new Orleans in ~ Mardi Gras. It was a time for human being to forget that they are and also just obtain with each other to it is in happy and loving and also dance and also rejoice."

The Sounds

In Motown, Berry Gordy had a particular formula for making a struggle song. That gathered a stellar team of area jazz musicians (all men), known collectively as The Funk Brothers. He stuck with a choose group of songwriters that were said to compose songs in an initial person and also present tense. The Motown sound was defined by a straight-forward, grounded beat (bass and drums) and melodic hook. It additionally employed call-and-response vocals and heavy use of tambourine. In brand-new York, Phil Spector produced girl team songs utilizing his well known "wall that sound," a production an approach that to work a huge amount the instruments and also layered track after track on peak of every other. He developed a thick, roaring, echoing sound, choose The Ronettes" recording of "Be my Baby."

"Musically, the girl group sound—and famous music at the moment in general—was illustration on a lot different sources," claims Warwick. "There are girl team songs the are based upon blues progressions… yet there"s also some that sound an ext like tin Pan Alley songs—almost prefer Broadway numbers."

The girls rarely wrote their very own songs, but neither did the male groups of the time. Instead, claims Whitall, it was an ext of a movie studio system. "This is not a singer-songwriter thing, whereby they to be coming in through their own material," she says.

But the success the girl teams had to execute with an ext than harmony and also lyrics. The was around the entirety performance—how they moved, the apparel they wore, how big their hair was. In Motown, Gordy hired finishing school teacher Maxine Powell to teach the girls how to walk and also talk. He likewise brought in professional choreographers. All of this was part of his effort—embraced by the girls—to convey a middle-class respectability.

Outside Motown, The Shangri-Las were singing songs about great girls loving bad boys, such as "Leader the the Pack." In the mid-to-late 1960s, they take it on an ext of a tough girl image, wearing spike heels and tight leather trousers to complement their delinquent themes. The Ronettes, that were biracial, likewise became renowned for their bad-girl quick skirts, high-piled hair and also thick eyeliner.

Male promoters did have actually ultimate control over the groups, and also in what is arguably a legacy in the record industry, part musicians to be exploited: castle didn"t gain credit for their work, it to be released under a various name or lock didn"t acquire royalties.

But for countless girls, fame also offered variety of brand-new opportunities. In Women of Motown, The Marvelettes" Schaffner says, "I loved going ~ above the road. Just like many artist who stayed in the black ar at the time, it was an way that allowed you to take trip to other cities and states and gave you the "out."" of course, some of the girls were so young the chaperones accompanied them on tour—sometimes their parents.

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End of an Era

The girl group boom began to fizzle in the late 1960s, in part because that the brother Invasion. However The Beatles themselves to be obsessed through American girl groups and even sang girl team songs, consisting of "Please Mr. Postman," The Shirelles" "Baby It"s You" and also The Cookies" "Chains."

The just girl group able to compete with The Beatles top top the American charts was The Supremes, who maintained popularity right into the early 1970s, even though Diana Ross had actually left the group. Yet The Supremes aren"t necessarily representative the the remainder of girl group culture. States Warwick, "Even native the very beginning, their songs are a little much more adult in the themes," such as in the song "Where did Our love Go" and also "Stop in the surname of Love." these grown-up themes contrast with The Shangri-Las singing healsongs about teenage drama. "At Motown, The Marvelettes, The Velvelettes, groups like that, are much more clearly identified as teenagers," she says, "and arguably that"s why The Supremes had an ext longevity. They to be able to shift into coming to be adults with higher ease."

One thing is certain: by the time the women"s activity arrived in the late 1960s, there was a generation the women supplied to standing on the stage and also telling the people how castle felt. In an era of cultural upheaval, girl groups helped articulate the personal experiences that teenagers—of every races—who to be living v tremendous political upheaval.