News came this past week that Mary Weiss, lead vocalist for the Shangri-Las, died at the age of 75 (December 28, 1948 – January 19, 2024). A boomer herself, Mary was in high school in Queens, New York when, together with her sister Elizabeth (Betty), they joined forces with twin sisters Mary Ann and Margie Ganser to form the Shangri-Las.
In 1963, while performing at school dances and sock hops, the group came to the attention of Artie Ripp. He signed the group to their first record deal with Kama Sutra Productions. Their first single flopped, but the group quickly signed a contract with Red Bird Records, where they met producer-songwriter George “Shadow” Morton. He would be key to their success. Morton co-wrote and produced the group’s first number one hit, Leader of the Pack.
Highlights from the Shangri-Las:
Remember (Walking in the Sand) (1964)
Leader of the Pack (1965)
Give Him a Great Big Kiss (1965)
I Can Never Go Home Anymore (1965)
Out In the Streets (1965) It was performed on the TV show Shindig! in 1965.
Early photos often show only three members of the group — Mary and the twins — and the Shangri-Las often appeared as a trio on TV and live performances. Shortly after the recording of Leader of the Pack, Mary’s sister temporarily left the group (reportedly to have a child). She rejoined them in 1965.
The Shangri-Las toured with the Rolling Stones, Herman’s Hermits, and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, and played with many other popular bands of the 1960s. When James Brown hired them for a gig in 1968, Mary is quoted as saying Brown was shocked to learn the girls were white.
The group disbanded in 1968 amid contentious litigation that has not been fully explained. Suffice it to say that Mary herself, in interviews through the years, declined to provide details but complained about being taken advantage of by record companies. For a while, Mary spent time in San Francisco, only to return to New York and resurfacing as a purchasing agent. Eventually she worked in commercial furniture management and as a commercial interior designer. Finally, she was a furniture consultant to businesses in New York.
Mary and the Shangri-Las were hugely influential to other musicians. Some of the stars who listed them as influencing their work were Paul McCartney, Debbie Harry (Blondie) and Amy Winehouse, among many others.
Mary returned to music in 2007, releasing a solo album, Dangerous Game, on Norton Records.
A pre-teen Mister Boomer often mixed up the girl groups (in particular, the Ronettes, the Shangri-Las and the Shirelles). Though he and many other boomers may not have known Mary Weiss by name, he certainly knew her music.
What memories of Mary Weiss and the Shangri-Las do you have, boomers?