It was the decade that shook the world.
The 1960’s saw the rise of the civil rights movement, space exploration, and rock & roll. It was an unprecedented time in history, marked with triumph and tragedy, picket lines and sit- ins. It forever altered the trajectory of the world both culturally and politically, ushering in a new generation hell-bent on breaking all the rules. The music that came out of the ’60s was an important product of the times and a departure from classic standards and big band. The ’60s produced some of the most influential music to come out of any decade, signaling in a new era of musicians that broke the mold, set the bar, and became part of a cultural revolution. The Beatles’ ’64 US debut on the Ed Sullivan Show marked the beginning of a musical legacy that would span decades. Simon & Garfunkel and Bob Dylan were poetry in motion, Artists like the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, and The Doors wrote their own music and changed the face of entertainment as the world knew it.
But despite being a “Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” the ’60s also saw the rise of the feminist movement. As women began to find their voice and come into their own, girl groups took to the charts in droves, dominating dance floors and airwaves. They were the ’60s version of the clap back and unapologetically feminine. Demure yet confident, with a dash of naivete, and a whole lotta talent, girl groups created some of the most enduring music of all time. Undeniably influencing the course of entertainment.
The Ronettes, comprised of lead singer Ronnie Spector, Nedra Talley, and Estelle Bennet, started out as a family act in Washington Heights, Manhattan. Their release of the 1963 hit “Be My Baby” sold more than 2 million copies that year and would become one of the most prolific songs of the decade as well as Billboard’s number one Girl Group Song of All Time. It was reintroduced to a whole other generation in the 1987 classic “Dirty Dancing” starring Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Beyond the success of hits like “Be My Baby” and “Baby, I Love You,” The Ronettes influenced countless other musicians like Amy Winehouse, Billy Joel, and Bruce Springsteen. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007, taking their rightful place as one of the most influential musical acts to come out of the ’60s.
Schoolmates Shirley Owens, Doris Coley, Addie “Micki” Harris, and Beverly Lee together made up the Shirelles. From 1960- 1963, they churned out 5 top five hits including “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Mama Said,” “Soldier Boy,” and “Foolish Little Girl.” Their naivete blended perfectly with the subtle sexuality in their lyrics. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “Tonight’s the Night,” were both selected by Rolling Stone as two of the greatest songs of all time. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996, nearly 40 years after their debut.
Martha and the Vandellas
When Martha Reeves joined Rosalind Ashford, Gloria Williams, and Annette Beard, history would be made. Martha and the Vandellas charted over 25 top hits, 10 of which landed on Billboard’s Top Ten. Their 1964 hit “Dancing in the Street,” would become one of the most popular songs in rock and roll history, re- recorded by Van Halen in 1982 and again in 1985 as a David Bowie and Mick Jagger duet. “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” and “Nowhere to Run” were synonymous with the ’60s girl group sound and would eventually catapult them into superstardom. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, becoming only the second all female group to be recognized.
With 12 number one singles on BillBoard’s Hot 100, simply put, The Supremes are the most successful girl group of all time. Founding members Florence Ballard, Betty McGlown, Mary Wilson and Diana Ross were Motown’s premiere act and most popular commercial success. “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Baby Love,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “You Keep Me Hanging On” defined a movement and broke racial barriers and stereotypes. A cultural- phenomena on their own, their impact on the music industry is as relevant today as it was over 50 years ago. Laying down the blueprint for others to follow, their influence extended to groups like the Pointer Sisters, En Vogue, and Destiny’s Child. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and recognized for their indelible legacy in music and entertainment. They were the trailblazers of their time, icons, and the gold standard of girl groups. Like so many other all- female groups of the ’60s, they overcame racism and sexism with style, charisma, and raw talent.