Shirley Gunter

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Shirley Gunter was one of the first women in rock & roll and helped to pave the way for other women to lead their own groups. Like Wanda Jackson, Etta James, LaVerne Baker, Esther Phillips, and Brenda…
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Shirley Gunter was one of the first women in rock & roll and helped to pave the way for other women to lead their own groups. Like Wanda Jackson, Etta James, LaVerne Baker, Esther Phillips, and Brenda Lee, she was a pioneer.

Gunter and her vocal group, the Queens, came together in Los Angeles in the spring of 1954. They were initially spotted by Joe Bihari one night at L.A.'s Savoy Ballroom, sharing the stage with B.B. King, Johnny Otis, the Platters, the Lamplighters, and Marvin & Johnny and host/MC Hunter Hancock, a local DJ who broadcast his KRKD shows live from the shop window of Dolphin's of Hollywood, located on Central Avenue at Vernon.

Bihari -- already well-known for operating a handful of the most successful and influential R&B labels on the West Coast, including Modern, RPM, Flair, and Meteor -- brought Shirley and group to the studios, producing "Oop Shoop," which made a huge impact on the West Coast and soon covered by the Crewcuts, (fresh off their cover of the Chords' "Sh-Boom").

Soon, New York-based DJ Alan Freed was spinning the 45 and touting it as a fresh example of rock & roll. Toward the end of 1954 and into 1955, the Queens toured the U.S., but subsequent singles failed to do as well as their initial release. Eventually, Shirley Gunter went out on tour as a solo performer alongside Young Jessie and the Flairs and appeared as a solo act on Hunter Hancock's TV show. Before the end of 1955, the Queens officially split. Shirley carried on as a solo performer, signing to Buck Ram's Personality Productions. In May 1956, at the urging of Ram, Gunter joined Modern's Flairs, partnering up with brother Cornell Gunter (who would lead them to their biggest success with "In Self Defense"). The group recorded and toured incessantly; in September 1956, they appeared on the full-length compilation of Modern's acts, called Hollywood Rock & Roll Hop.

The next year, Shirley Gunter -- a veteran of four years in the R&B limelight -- began to realize that the novelty of being one of the first women in rock & roll had long since begun to wear off and so she and the Flairs soon parted, but not before helping to pave the way for women to lead their own groups in rock & roll.