|SHIRLEY GUNTER & THE QUEENS:
THE FIRST FEMALE VOCAL GROUP
Shirley Gunter was born in 1934 in Coffeyville, Kansas, and migrated to Los Angeles with her family in early 1942. She began her singing career as a solo artist in 1953 when her older brother, Cornelius, a member of a vocal group called The Flairs, took her to his label, Flair Records, a subsidiary of Modern Records. After her first two singles, Shirley put together her own group called The Four Queens in 1954 with high soprano Lula B. Kenney, Lula's Aunt Lula Mae Suggs (middle harmony) and alto Blondene Taylor, Shirley's best friend at Polytechnic High School. (The Lulas came from Midland, Texas, and Blondene hailed from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.) From all reports, they seem to have been the first all-girl doo-wop group; Etta James has called them "the first female group where all the girls could sing."
One day the four girls were fooling around on the piano in Shirley's living room when they came up with a "Sh-Boom"-like ditty with nonsense lyrics called "Oop Shoop." When they took it to saxophonist Maxwell Davis, Shirley's mentor at Flair Records, he helped them work up a more polished arrangement. Label chief Joe Bihari liked what he heard, changed their name to Shirley Gunter & The Queens, and released "Oop Shoop" in August 1954. Within two months it entered the R&B charts and rose to number eight, but before the record had a chance to cross over into pop territory, The Crew-Cuts, who had already had a major hit by covering "Sh-Boom" for Mercury Records, gave "Oop Shoop" the same treatment. Bandleader Spike Jones' wife, Helen Greco, also recorded it (on RCA's X label), along with The Hamilton Sisters (Columbia), Big John & His Buzzards (Okeh) and Kay Brown (on Crown, another Modern Records subsidiary ).
After four singles and a couple of tours with The Queens, Shirley Gunter paired up with her brother's group, The Flairs. The move may have been calculated to revitalize The Flairs, who had lost most of their original members, as well as to end the fading (and internally feuding) female group in order to make way for Modern's newest hitmakers, two sisters who called themselves The Teen Queens ("Eddie My Love"). Shirley's first Modern single with her brother's group, "Headin' Home," sold in a few markets, and they toured the East Coast, but overall nothing clicked. By 1958 Shirley left the music business, returning only periodically, as when she was asked in 1969 to record for Ray Charles' Tangerine label.
Now blind, Shirley Gunter lives in Las Vegas and maintains her interest in music through her work as a gospel singer at her church. Lula Kenney moved to Las Vegas, worked as a showgirl and sang with The Platters; she's now known as Piper Alvez and lives in Los Angeles. Blondene Taylor, who briefly recorded for Mercury Records with Junior Ryder under the name Sugar & Spice, and Lula Mae Suggs are deceased.
On June, 22, 1990, the Doo-Wop Society put Shirley and Lula (Piper) together again with another vocalist to form a new Shirley Gunter & The Queens for DWS Show #6; also on the bill was her old group, The Flairs, including ex-members Richard Berry, Pete Fox and Young Jessie. These remarkable women showed that they still had the stuff, and Shirley displayed that distinctive, rich voice that had survived forty years of professional singing.
|As by Shirley Gunter|
|Flair 1020*||"Send Him Back"/"Since I Fell For You"||1953|
|Flair 1027**||"Found Some Good Lovin'"/"Strange Romance"||1954|
|Modern 979||"Come On"/"Please Tell Me (What Would You Do)"||1955|
|Modern 1011||"I've Been Searching"/"I'm So Sorry"||1957|
|Tender 511***||"Believe Me"/"Crazy Little Baby"||1958|
|Tangerine 949||"Stuck Up"/"You Let My Love Grow Cold"||1965|
|Tangerine 1001||"Stuck Up"/"You Let My Love Grow Cold"||1969|
|As by Shirley Gunter & The Queens|
|Flair 1050||"Oop Shoop"/"It's You"||1954|
|Flair 1060||"You're Mine"/"Why"||1955|
|Flair 1065||"Baby, I Love You So"/"What Difference Does It Make"||1955|
|Flair 1070||"That's The Way I Like It"/"Gimme, Gimme, Gimme"||1955|
|As by Shirley Gunter & The Flairs|
|Flair 1076||"Ipsy Opsy Ooh"/"How Can I Tell You"||1955|
|Modern 989+||"Headin' Home"/"I Want You"/"||1955|
|Modern 1001+||"Fortune in Love"/"I Just Got Rid of a Heartache"||1956|
|Ace CDCHD 258||R&B Confidential #1: The Flair Label
(Contains "Send Him Back,""Oop Shoop," "Baby, I Love You So' and "What Difference Does It Make")
|Ace CDCHD 723||Modern Vocal Groups Vol. 2
(Contains "Oop Shoop," "What Difference Does It Make" and "Why")
|Ace CDCHD 741||Modern Vocal Groups Vol. 3
(Contains "That's the Way I Like It" and "Ipsy Opsy Ooh")
|Ace CDCHD 764||Modern Vocal Groups Vol. 4
(Contains "I Just Got Rid of a Heartache" "I Want You")
|Ace CDCHD 784||The Modern Records Story
(Contains "Oop Shoop")
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