The group, which originally formed in Spanish Harlem, New York, in 1955, was first known as “The Harlem Queens”. The girls first met while singing at the Glee Club at P.S. 109 in Spanish Harlem. They were soon discovered by James Dailey, a record producer, who also became their manager, while playing a concert at the legendary Apollo Theater‘s amateur night, and were quickly signed to a contract on the Atlantic Record Label. The girls lived in the housing projects of 1905 Second Ave and 99th Street and sang in the hallways of the building and downstairs in the playground.
In 1957, the girls released their first hit single, “Mr. Lee,” an uptempo song in which the narrator proclaims her devotion to her crush – her school teacher. The girls actually disliked the real-life Mr. Lee and the original lyrics to the song were something of a put-down, but Atlantic insisted the group revise the lyrics before recording the song. The single, backed by “Look at the Stars,” became their biggest hit recording ever, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Pop singles chart and spending four weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. This made the Bobbettes the first girl group to release a #1 R&B hit that also made the pop top 10. The song would later be covered by Diana Ross on the European version of her 1987 album Red Hot Rhythm & Blues.
After a series of novelty songs for Atlantic that were unsuccessful, they recorded the original recording of “I Shot Mr. Lee”. Atlantic refused the song and the group left the label and signed with Teddy Vann and a new version was issued on the small Triple-X label. It started to climb the charts rapidly, eventually reaching #52 on the Billboard Hot 100, and Atlantic was forced to release their own version of the song.
Over the next few years they followed up that single with such other recordings as “I Shot Mr. Lee,” “Have Mercy Baby,” “You Are My Sweetheart,” “You Belong to Me,” and “Dance with Me Georgie.” They then signed with the End and released the songs “Teach Me Tonight” and “I Don’t Like It Like That” (answer to Chris Kenner’s “I Like It Like That”.) Although the recording of “I Don’t Like It Like That” was the girls’ last chart-topper, they continued to record for a series of record labels, including Diamond, RCA Victor and Mayhew, before disbanding in 1974. They also toured the oldies circuits for many years after their breakup. Other recordings by the Bobbettes include, “Oh My Pa-Pa,” “Speedy,” “Zoomy,” and “Rock and Ree-ah-Zole (The Teenage Talk).” Their single of “I’ve Gotta Face The World” on RCA Victor is a valuable Northern Soul single.
Jannie Pought was stabbed to death by a stranger in New Jersey.
The Bobbettes were nominated for induction in the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
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