L-R: Jannie Pought, Reather Dixon, Emma Pought, Laura Webb and Helen Gathers.
The Bobbettes, five young girls from Harlem, became the first all-girl doo-wop group to have a #1 R&B hit and a Top Ten pop hit with their first single, "Mr. Lee," in 1957.
Lead singer Reather Dixon (born in 1945), second lead Emma Pought (1944), her soprano sister Jannie Pought (1945), tenor Laura Webb (1943) and alto Helen Gathers (1944) began singing together, along with a couple of other girls, at Public School #109 under the name The Harlem Queens. When local promoter James Daily saw them at an Apollo Theater talent night in late 1956, he took over their management, changed their name to The Bobbettes because he felt the name The Harlem Queens was too raunchy for underage girls (Reather was only eleven at the time), and landed them a contract with Atlantic Records.
The girls went into the studio on February 28, 1957, to record four of their own songs, including "Mr. Lee," based on a school teacher the girls didn't like, but re-written at the suggestion of Atlantic to make him (and the recording) more sympathetic. According to Reather, "[Atlantic] told us they loved the song, but we'd have to change words a little. Instead of 'He's the ugliest teacher I ever did see,' we changed it to 'He's the handsomest teacher I ever did see.'" Reather and Dimples shared the lead, singing in unison, to make their voices bigger. Released in June, "Mr Lee" went to the top of the R& B charts and crossed over into pop territory, where it topped out at #6. The girls suddenly found themselves touring with Clyde McPhatter, Ruth Brown, Dion & The Belmonts and Frankie Lymon & The Teenagers. They even traveled to the British West Indies because the flipside of their big single, the calypso-flavored "Look at the Stars," was a hit there. On the other hand, because they were so young, they couldn't perform in nightclubs and sometimes had to adhere to curfews.
Despite their initial success and the excitement of their performances, the Bobbettes' next five releases sold poorly and Atlantic lost interest. At a final 1959 session, the girls recorded "I Shot Mr. Lee," in which they finally sang what they really thought about their former teacher, but Atlantic refused to release it. The company did release the girls from their contract, however, and they went looking for a new label.
When the smaller Triple X label picked up The Bobbettes in 1960 and released a new version of "I Shot Mr. Lee," it became an immediate hit on the local charts, prompting Atlantic to issue the version it already had in the can. Both versions charted together, reaching #52 pop. Another Triple X record, a remake of Clyde McPhatter's "Have Mercy, Baby," b/w "Dance With Me, Georgie," a re-write of Etta Jamesí "Roll With Me Henry," became a minor two-sided hit, making the lower end of the charts. From Triple X The Bobbettes traveled to End Records, where they had a small 1961 hit with "I Donít Like It Like That," an answer to Chris Kenner's "I Like It Like That." They also sang the prominent background vocal on Johnny Thunders' huge 1962 hit, "Loop De Loop," and in 1964 recorded "Love That Bomb" for the soundtrack of Stanley Kubrick's classic, Dr. Strangelove. But overall their recordings were uneven, and their companies sometimes urged them to record old-style pop tunes like "Oh My Papa" and "Teach Me Tonight" that didn't endear them to their rock 'n' roll fans.
After Helen Gathers left the group for good in 1962, The Bobbettes continued to record as a quartet for several labels, including Diamond and RCA, but by the mid-'70s they called it quits, except for intermittent oldies shows. Jannie Pought died in 1980 and Laura Webb passed away just last year, 2001.
These days the two original lead singers, Emma Pought Patron and Reather "Dimples" Dixon Turner, are carrying on with the group with two new singers, Debra Thompson and Pamela Tate.
|Atlantic 1144||Mr Lee/Look at the Stars||1957|
|Atlantic 1159||Speedy/Come-A Come-A||1957|
|Atlantic 1181||Zoomy/Rock and Ree-Ah-Zole||1958|
|Atlantic 1194||The Dream/Um Bow Wow||1958|
|Atlantic 2027||Don't Say Goodnight/You Are My Sweetheart||1959|
|Atlantic 2069||I Shot Mr. Lee/Untrue Love||1960|
|Triple X 104||I Shot Mr. Lee/Billy||1960|
|Triple X 106||Have Mercy, Baby/Dance With Me, Georgie||1960|
|Galliant 1006||Oh My Papa/I Cried||1960|
|End 1093||Teach Me Tonight/Mr. Johnny Q.||1961|
|End 1095||I Don't Like It Like That, Parts 1 & 2||1961|
|Gone 5112||I Don't Like It Like That, Parts 1 & 2||1961|
|King 5490||Oh Mein Papa/Dance With Me, Georgie||1961|
|King 5551||Looking For a Lover/Are You Satisfied||1961|
|King 5623||My Dearest/I'm Stepping Out Tonight||1962|
|Jubilee 5427||Over There/Loneliness||1962|
|Jubilee 5442||A Broken Heart/Mama Papa||1962|
|Diamond 133||Teddy/Row Row Row||1962|
|Diamond 142||Close Your Eyes/Somebody Bad Stole De Wedding Bell||1963|
|Diamond 156||My Mama Said/Sandman||1964|
|Diamond 166||In Paradise/I'm Climbing a Mountain||1964|
|Diamond 181||You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet/I'm Climbing a Mountain||1965|
|Diamond 189||Teddy/Love Is Blind||1965|
|RCA 8832||Having Fun/I've Gotta Face the World||1966|
|RCA 8983||It's All Over/Happy Go Lucky||1966|
|Mayhew 712297||That's a Bad Thing to Know/All in Your Mind||1971|
|Mayhew 712237||Tighten Up Your Own Home/Looking For a New Love||1972|
|Mayhew 712861||It Won't Work Out/Good Man||1974|
|Official 6055||Mr. Lee (their 12 Atlantic and 4 Triple X tracks)||1989|
|Titanic 981008||The Ultimate Collection: Mr. Lee and Others (34 tracks)||19xx|
|Crash xxxx||The Best of The Bobbettes (30 tracks)||1997|
Bobbettes Helen Gathers, Emma and Jannie Pought, Reather Dixon and Laura Webb in the studio with
Big Joe Turner (hat), manager James Dailey and Atlantic Records boss Ahmet Ertegun, 1957.
L-R: Laura Webb, Emma Pought and Reather Dixon in the 1980s.
|The Bobbettes today:
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