I am now back in the UK from being in Austria for the past fortnight setting up and presenting ‘Losing Chorus’. Although my PhD is not practice based the exhibition and discussions that the exhibition opened up have really helped me think about my research with more focus. One of the points that emerged with more focus was around the politics of disguise – can we understand the changing and replacement of vocals in groups such the Crystals or even the Supremes as a kind of forced disguise (?) Perhaps disguise is not the correct word – obscure, replacement, mimesis, ventriloquise…I am still so uncertain at the moment – but it would be interesting to find out how complicit performers were in the (re)arrangements.
i have also been thinking a lot about the difficulty in pinpointing the ‘beginnings’ of what is understood as ‘girl group’. The term forces a history that is so unsettled and fragmented – that when you begin to hone in on it it disappears. I will continue with these thoughts this evening – my mind s still very fuzzy on what I actually mean….
Although I just want to note down some of things I want to consider for today:
How did the payola scandals impact black run record labels? ( were they targeted?)
what is the relationship between the Chantels and the history of RnB groups? (Nelson George)
I am currently in Linz, Austria preparing for a new exhibition – Losing Chorus. The exhibition explores the non-symbolic aspects of vocalisations produced on ‘girl group’ records.
For more information please see:
A very short article (Wall Street Journal) whereby Ronnie Spector briefly discusses her appreciate of the Chantels track, “Maybe” (End, 1958). Spector states the strength and power in Smiths voice attributing it to ‘girl power’.
In her biography Dreamgirl: My Life As A Supreme Mary Wilson discusses how the emergence of the ‘Primettes’ (featuring Betty McGlown, Dian(e)a Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson) as a professional act and her role was in part due to her mothers view that being in a vocal group would keep her occupied after school and keep her “out of trouble” and “off the streets”. The group therefore became a means of social discipline whereby this activity stopped the possibility of other activity. It is quite late and my head is somewhat fuzzy but I want to note down this point before it escapes me completely.
I picked up a later issue of the Chantels ‘We Are The Chantels’ (LP 301) yesterday. Released on END records this issue see’s the track listing re-organised into a slightly different order and more significantly has a different front cover. There is no date on the release but online sources seem to date it at 1962.
This cover shows two, white ‘teens’ selecting tunes from a juke box.
The original release has an image of the group organised in height order wearing light pink, matching dresses with a red say belt and white gloves. I ma keen to discover why this cover was not re-used. An online source describes the group and wearing “southern plantation dresses”. It is difficult to ascertain how accurate a description that is as these dresses seem to be in a style common of the late 1950s. The use of this description seems quite uncomfortable – I need to find out how accurate this is.
I have just received an email from the record store where I purchased the above record. Apparently, the change was due to the image of a group of young black women. This is a disturbing piece of information to receive. If this was the case then the feminist reclamation of such groups has utterly ignored issue beyond gender. I have asked if they have anymore information regarding the alteration and perhaps others.
The Soul Detroit online forum also has discussed this issue. There appears to be two possible theories:
- the image was changed to appeal to the south – fearing there would be issues regarding a group of young black women
- That the dresses the group are wearing were seen as antebellum plantation outfits.