Original Shirelle Doris Kenner-Jackson Dies

Member of the pioneering '60s girl group succumbed to lung cancer.

Doris Kenner-Jackson, an original member of the influential 1960s
R&B group the Shirelles, died of lung cancer Friday, according to the Sacramento, Calif., County Coroner’s Office. She was 58.

The New Jersey quartet scored seven top-10 hits from
1960–63, including “Dedicated to the One I Love,” “Soldier Boy,”
“Mama Said” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” Many of the Shirelles’ songs exemplified the “girl group” sound — high harmonies coupled with upbeat, lush production — that permeated pop music during the first half of the ’60s.

Kenner, who died at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Sacramento, was born Doris Coley on Aug. 2, 1941, in Passaic, N.J. She sang in church as a child and, while in high school, formed the all-girl vocal quartet the Poquellos in 1958 with classmates Shirley Owens, Addie “Micki” Harris and Beverly Lee.

At first, they sang at school parties and dances and based their shows around their own composition, “I Met Him on a Sunday.” They were discovered by a classmate whose mother, Florence Greenberg, owned the small record label Tiara. Greenberg suggested the group change its name — the girls chose the Shirelles — and supervised its recording. “I Met Him on a Sunday” reached #49 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, and Tiara leased it to Decca Records for national distribution.

After the single’s success, all four members dropped out of high
school, but they each got diplomas later.

String Of Hits

In 1959 Greenberg formed Scepter Records with writer/producer Luther Dixon. They signed the Shirelles; Greenberg became the group’s manager and Dixon its producer.

Subsequent Shirelles hits included “Dedicated to the One I Love”
( HREF="http://www.sonicnet.com/artists/clip.cgi?track=%7Eoo-
XXXXXX%2F0083390_0103_00_0002.ra">RealAudio excerpt
) — originally recorded by the “5″ Royales — (1959) and “Tonight’s the Night” (1960). But the Shirelles really made their mark in 1961, with the #1 “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” (RealAud io excerpt), written by the young husband-and-wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The single became the first chart topper on the Billboard Hot 100 by an all-girl group in the rock era.

Later in 1961, the Shirelles released their debut LP, Tonight’s the
Night,
and the top-5 single “Mama Said.” The following year, the
Shirelles helped launched the career of another songwriter, Burt
Bacharach, whose “Baby It’s You” they took into the U.S. top 10. In
1963 the Beatles included the song on their debut LP, Please
Please Me,
along with a cover of “Boys,” the Shirelles’ B-side to
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”

Other acts that have recorded Shirelles songs include Aretha
Franklin, Cher, Roberta Flack, Tony Orlando, Linda Ronstadt, the
Four Seasons, Laura Nyro, and the Mamas and the Papas.

Most of those Shirelles hits featured Dixon’s innovative, string-laden
production, which was often copied by other ’60s soul and pop
groups. The Shirelles’ last chart topper was 1962′s “Soldier Boy.” In
1963 they released their biggest selling LP, The Shirelles’ Greatest
Hits,
which stayed on the Billboard albums chart for 49
weeks. Also that year, they had their last top-10 hit with “Foolish Little Girl.” Coley also was married that year and took the name of her
husband, Kenner; Owens also married and became Shirley Alston.

Continuing On

The group’s success was challenged by many of the girl groups that
followed them, including the Chiffons and the Crystals. The Shirelles
left Scepter after a disagreement with Greenberg. Because of legal
ties to the label, however, the group was unable to sign elsewhere,
and Scepter continued to issue backlogged Shirelles material.

In 1967, the Shirelles finally were able to sign with another label and
chose Mercury Records. But after a few failed singles, Kenner split
from the group to spend time with her family. She married again and
became known as Doris Jackson.

The Shirelles continued as a trio but never matched their earlier
success. In 1975 Jackson returned to the Shirelles to replace Alston,
who embarked on a solo career. The Shirelles’ last nonretrospective
LP was Let’s Give Each Other Love (1976). They continued to
perform as a trio until Harris’ death from a heart attack in 1982.
Jackson, Lee and Alston (now Reeves) last recorded together on
Dionne Warwick’s How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye
(1983), which featured a version of “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?”

In 1996, the Shirelles were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of
Fame. Kenner-Jackson still toured the “oldies” circuit with various
Shirelles lineups until recently. In 1997, she and Reeves
attended the renaming of the Passaic High School auditorium to the
Shirelle Auditorium.