In some ways, the girl group known as the Bobbettes was a typical one-hit wonder. (Although you might remember that I argued a while back that the term shouldn’t be used so negatively.) The Bobbettes did qualify for the sobriquet, with 1957’s “Mr. Lee” hitting #1 on R&B charts and even climbing into the Top Ten on pop charts, although later records all fell far short. But that’s still pretty good, when you consider that the group’s lead singer was only eleven when it all started.
That was young Reather Dixon, who joined with school friends and fellow glee club members Laura Webb, Helen Gathers, and sisters Jannie and Emma Pought to form a singing group they initially called the Harlem Queens. The girls were soon appearing in amateur shows at the Apollo Theater, making a big splash and attracting the attention of James Dailey, who helped get them a contract with Atlantic Records.
Daily also changed the group’s name to the Bobbettes to soften its image a little, and helped produce its debut record. It was a harmless little song about a teacher who the girls actually disliked, but in the song, “Mr. Lee” was made to sound good. (They later recorded a more accurate – and critical – version they named “I Shot Mr. Lee,” but it became one of the reasons they left Atlantic after the company balked at issuing it.) After “Mr. Lee” became a huge hit they were big-time stars, even touring with the likes of Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon, and Dion & The Belmonts.
Over the next several years the Bobbettes did sell some records with songs like “Have Mercy Baby,” “I Don’t Like It Like That,” and a few others, and the girls certainly kept spinning out new releases. But they never again approached the popularity of “Mr. Lee,” and by the late 1960s had begun to evolve into a smaller group, sometimes singing background for others. By the 1970s the original Bobbettes had dissolved, although various members have reunited from time to time through the years for oldies shows.
The Bobbettes – “I Shot Mr. Lee”
It’s been a long time – months – since our last edition of Diamonds in the Rough, the Special Feature that points folks to some of our favorite posts from the past.
Of course, there’s a reason that we haven’t done one of these for a while, and it’s something I’ve mentioned before. The simple fact is that we’ve gradually worked our way through all the older posts and had almost caught up to the more recent ones. But now some time has passed, so once again I have a larger pool and more fish to go after.
Hopefully you’ll like some of the catches below.
John Barry Orchestra – “Diamonds Are Forever”
Ken Curtis – Crooner Turned Cowboy
One of my all-time favorites, and definitely holds the record for videos.
The Fallacy Of The Famous Dueling Banjos
I’ve always been fascinated by things like this.
Did Gene Pitney Sing For Los Bravos?
Either way, the legend persists.
Elvis Has Achieved A Type Of Immortality
Remember, I said ‘a type’ of immortality.
The Singing Side Of Clint Walker
One of the most popular recent posts. Lots of fans.
The Persistence Of Wesley Tuttle
An amazing story in many ways.
The Shocking Of America
The title could mean a lot of things, but it is all about music.
The Lost Voice Of Ann Richards
Another one of those head-scratchers.
The Crooning Side Of Dick Powell
Not only did he croon, he was famous for it.
In Appreciation Of The Amazing Viola Smith
Couldn’t resist adding this one, even though it’s very recent.
(Note: I had originally intended to write about the passing of Lesley Gore, but it was about then that the flu bug hit me. By now there have been tons of good articles posted about that talented lady, so I’ll just salute her and move on to another subject.)
Sometimes confused with bandleader Ina Ray Hutton, her older sister (or half-sister according to some sources), June Hutton was a fine singer whose career included several high points. She worked as a big band songbird, spent some time as the lead singer in a famous ensemble, and found a lot of success as a soloist before eventually fading.
A Chicago native, she was born as June Marvel Cowan, but began calling herself June Hutton as a teenager in the late 1930s. Not coincidentally, it was about when she began singing with the all-girl band led by Ina Ray Hutton (born Odessa Cowan). It was a good start for her career, and after building her experience in a couple of other jobs she moved on to a spot with Charlie Spivak’s band, mostly as the centerpiece of his singing group, the Stardusters. (See video below.)
Spending the early years of the war with the band was great experience for the young singer, and when Jo Stafford left Tommy Dorsey’s Pied Pipers to pursue a solo career, June was able to step into her place in the much-admired group. In fact, she remained with the ensemble for several years, singing on some of its biggest hits. But by the end of the 1940s she was ready to take the next step — a solo career.
During the 1950s, she was able to score hits on several records, including “No Stone Unturned” and “Say You’re Mine Again,” no doubt helped along by her new husband. Axel Stordahl was a talented composer and arranger who’d already found a lot of success himself by then, including working with Frank Sinatra for an extended period. That in turn probably helped June make frequent appearances on Sinatra’s TV show, although she also popped up on a few others. Unfortunately the 1950s began the incursion of rock and roll into pop music, and singers like June soon felt the pinch. Within a few years she retired from performing. She was only 52 when she died in 1973 (although another source puts her two years younger).
June Hutton – “No Stone Unturned”