The early 1960s saw the popularity of all-female groups skyrocket with an era-defining sound and many timeless hits we still listen to today.
Only five all-girl groups are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with the Go-Gos as the latest inductees in 2021.
It’s notable and unsurprising that the first four all-girl groups inducted were some of the most popular Black female singing groups of the 60s.
The Supremes were a group that helped put Motown Records on the map with the type of worldwide popularity few artists achieved.
Twelve of their songs hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, making them the most successful singing group of the time and the Motown act with the most chart-topping songs.
Diana Ross, Betty McGlown, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard were the original group members that started as The Primettes. McGlown left, replaced by Barbara Martin, and they became The Supremes in 1961.
By 1962, Martin left the group, now a trio that became a musical sensation by mid-decade.
In 1967, the group rebranded as Diana Ross & the Supremes until Ross left in 1970 to become one of the most famous Black solo artists in history. The members changed a few times until they stopped recording in 1977.
Some of their most well-known hits include “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “You Can’t Hurry Love,” and “Where Did Our Love Go.”
The Supremes became inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, the first all-female group to do so. They earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.
Martha & the Vandellas
This group had a few different names before they reached success in 1960 as artists for Motown Records. They also released some music under the name Martha Reeves & The Vandellas in the late 60s and early 70s.
The lineup began with Gloria Williams, Rosalind Ashford, and Annette Beard. When Martha Reeves replaced Williams in 1962, she quickly became the lead singer, helping the group succeed with over 26 hits on the charts by 1972, when they recorded their last album.
They never had a #1 hit among their six singles that made the Billboard Hot 100 chart, but two of their ten songs on the Billboard R&B chart hit the top spot.
The first song that charted was “Come and Get These Memories” in 1962, but their second release, “Heat Wave,” hit #4 on the Hot 100 and became one of the most popular songs that year.
In 1969, they released another iconic song, “Dancing in the Street,” which hit #2 on the Hot 100 chart and became an international favorite.
In 1995, Martha & the Vandellas became the second all-female group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
It’s impossible to list Black female singing groups of the 60s without talking about The Shirelles.
Friends Addie Harris, Doris Coley, Beverly Less, and Shirley Owens joined forces in 1957 to perform in a high school talent show and quickly signed a recording contract with Decca Records.
They found little success at first, but after leaving to sign with Scepter Records, they made music history.
The Shirelles were the first Black girl group to hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart with their iconic song, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” in 1960. In 1962, their second and final #1 hit was “Soldier Boy.”
Their album Tonight’s the Night, which contains their historical number one hit, became part of the National Recording Registry’s preservation of culturally and historically significant recordings in 2022.
The group went on to have seven hits in the top 20 and 26 hits in the top 100. They became the first Black girl group to reach popularity internationally and influenced many other Black female groups of the 60s and beyond.
In 1996, they became the third all-girl group to achieve induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Ronnie Spector, then known as Veronica Greenfield, was the lead singer and co-founder of The Ronettes in the late 50s. The Ronettes became one of the most popular female groups of the 60s after signing with producer Phil Spector.
Ronnie married Spector in 1968 and stopped performing with the group. She rejoined after the marriage ended in 1972, but the group stopped recording shortly after in 1974.
The group had nine hits on the Billboard Hot 100, including “Be My Baby,” which reached #2 and became their biggest hit.
Though releasing nine songs that hit the charts is an impressive achievement, it’s even more so considering that The Ronettes only released one album with 12 tracks in their entire career.
Some of their other hits include “Walking in the Rain” and “(The Best Part of) Breakin’ Up.”
Despite releasing only one album, The Ronettes had enough impact and popularity to become the fourth all-female group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007.
Katherine Anderson, Gladys Horton, Juanita Cowart, Georgeanna Tillman, and Georgia Dobbins were members of the same high school glee club in 1960 when they formed The Marvelettes.
Before they signed with Motown Records in 1961, Wanda Young replaced Dobbins. The group released “Please Mr. Postman,” which became Motown’s first number-one single and made The Marvelettes Motown’s second success story after The Miracles, one of the hottest Black male groups of the 60s.
This song also stands as one of the first songs by an all-girl group to hit number one.
The Marvelettes released other popular songs like “Playboy” and “Don’t Mess With Bill,” their second-biggest-selling track, but none reached the heights of their first hit single.
Though other Black female singing groups of the 60s, like The Supremes, overshadowed them and are more well-known today, The Marvelettes were one of the decade’s iconic Black musical acts.
Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles
Patti LaBelle achieved mainstream success in the 1980s with a string of hits, a number one album, a number one single, and two Grammy Awards.
LaBelle, the “Godmother of Soul” and one of the first ladies of 80s music, earned several honors during her career, including a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Before her stunning solo career, she was the founder of one of the most successful Black female singing groups of the 60s, Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles.
They recorded in several musical genres, including soul, R&B, and pop, and became the first pop group to perform at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York.
Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles also hold the distinction of being the first Black singing group to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
The group disbanded in 1976 after releasing several popular hits like “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and “Lady Marmalade.”
The Crystals had several chart-topping hits in the early 60s under producer Phil Spector, though some belonged to another girl group.
They began as a quintet of Mary Thomas, Dolores Kinniebrew, Patricia Wright, Myrna Giraud, and Barbara Alston.
“There’s No Other (Like My Baby)” was their first hit, reaching 20 on the Top 100 chart in 1962. Their third single, “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss),” flopped. The song’s controversial theme led to limited airplay because people believed it endorsed domestic abuse.
The next single became the group’s only #1 hit, but it belonged to The Crystals in name only. The Blossoms, assuming the record would appear with their name, recorded the song under Spector’s direction.
He credited The Crystals with the song, which shot to number one. Unfortunately, this turned their only number one hit into a song they didn’t sing and stole the spotlight from The Blossoms.
Later, the original Crystals, now a quartet after Giraud’s departure, topped the charts again with hits like “Then He Kissed Me” and their top ten release that became a classic, “Da Doo Ron Ron.”
Membership of the group changed in 1964, and they stopped recording in 1967. Three members rejoined in 1971 and regularly performed live shows until 2018.
The Blossoms, a girl group originally called The Dreamers, formed in the 1950s. They found their biggest success in the 60s with members Darlene Love, Jean King, and Fanita James.
They provided backup vocals for several artists in the 60s, like The Righteous Brothers and The Ronettes. Other popular artists they sang with include Doris Day, Aretha Franklin, Bobby Pickett, Marvin Gaye, and dozens of others.
With several songs like “Tell Him” and performances on television programs, they achieve popularity and a fanbase. The Blossoms recorded their only studio album in 1972.
Their biggest claim to fame was the 1962 #1 hit “He’s a Rebel,” which producer Phil Spector credited to The Crystals.
The group had several lineup changes over the years and continues to perform with its remaining members.
The original members of The Chiffons were friends in high school. Later, at the urging of songwriter Ronnie Mack, who wrote many of their popular songs, Sylvia Peterson joined the trio of Patricia Bennett, Barbara Lee, and Judy Craig to make it a four-girl group.
Mack’s song “He’s So Fine” became their first single from their first album and a #1 US hit, eventually selling over one million copies.
Other hit songs from the 60s include “One Fine Day,” “My Boyfriend’s Back,” and “Sweet-Talking Guy.”
The Chiffons released four studio albums, the last in 1970 and several singles until their final release in 1976.
The Dixie Cups
The original members of this group were Joan Marie Johnson and sisters Rosa Lee and Barbara Ann Hawkins. Though their early career was short, they recorded one of the most popular songs of the 60s.
This group’s first single, “Chapel of Love,” hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1964 and became the biggest hit they would ever have, selling over one million copies.
The song’s popularity made The Dixie Cups one of the most well-known Black female singing groups of the 60s. Other hits from 1964 and 1965 include “You Should Have Seen the Way He Looked at Me,” “Iko Iko,” and “People Say.”
The group split up in 1966, but the sisters later reformed The Dixie Cups with other members and continued performing until Rosa’s death in 2022, leaving Barbara as the only surviving founder.
Many Black female singing groups of the 60s were session musicians that provided backup vocals for the most popular acts, but few went on to record singles and albums under their group name.
Robbie Montgomery, Jessie Smith, and Venetta Fields formed one of the groups that had a successful career backing other performers that also achieved hits of their own.
The group backed several of the era’s top hits and dazzled on stage. Short, flashy dresses and synchronized dance routines helped set them apart from many other backup singers.
They started as session singers for Art Lassiter and went by The Artettes until Lassiter failed to appear for a session. Ike Turner claimed the group to perform backup vocals on a Tina Turner song and produced their recording career.
They toured with the Ike & Tina Turner Revue until it broke up in 1976 and also performed as an independent act, releasing their last album in 1974.
Their first single, “I’m Blue (The Gong-Gong Song),” hit #19 on the Hot 100 and #3 on the R&B chart. The group had several lineup changes over the years and released other popular songs like “I’m So Thankful” and “Peaches and Cream.”
Best Black Female Singing Groups of the 60s, Final Thoughts
The artists and songs on this list get regular radio play today and have become hits for many other musical acts who covered them.
The success of groups like The Shirelles and The Supremes helped open the door for other Black musicians to reach mainstream popularity.
These Black female singing groups of the 60s helped define the sound of an era. Their contribution to Black music and music at large can’t be overstated and should never be forgotten.