THE RISE OF THE “GIRL GROUPS”
Were the Girl Groups of the early 1960s voices of female empowerment or reflections of traditional female roles?
Tucked between the popularity of the early Rock and Rollers and the mid-1960s British Invasion was the phenomenon known as the “Girl Groups.” With names like the Bobbettes, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes and the Chantelles, they offered a style rich in vocal harmonies that was eagerly embraced by a wide audience.
A number of Girl Group hit songs were co-written by female songwriters, including Carole King, Ellie Greenwich, Cynthia Weil, and Florence Greenberg (who also launched her own record label and whose life served as the basis for the 2011 Broadway musical Baby It’s You). If, up to that point, male voices and male songwriters dominated the popular music scene, things were changing. Rock and Roll had a new female sound that produced a string of hits.
The Girl Groups rarely if ever performed material they had written themselves and rarely if ever played the instruments featured on their recordings, a job left to male studio musicians. Lyrically, most of their songs -- from the Dixie Cups' “Chapel of Love” to the Angels' “My Boyfriend’s Back” -- focused on the males in their lives and the promise of a satisfying relationship with that perfect guy. But there was nonetheless something new at work: a female voice was emerging despite it all.
In this lesson, students will evaluate what the emergence of the Girl Groups says about the roles of girls and women in the early 1960s, as the nation sat on the threshold of a new Women’s Rights movement that would challenge traditional female roles. In 1963, Betty Friedan published The Feminine Mystique, widely considered a milestone in the emerging feminist movement – and it came at the peak of the Girl Groups’ popularity. Did the success of the Girl Groups signal a new female empowerment, under which girls and women could finally come out from the shadows of Rock and Roll and tell the world what was on their minds? Or did the very labels “Girl Group” and “girl singer” and the focus of so many of their songs on the search for the ideal man simply reflect the traditional domestic roles of women as wives and mothers?
Instructors can utilize the materials in this lesson in a variety of ways. It is written in the form of a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC), a teaching strategy similar to debate that focuses on students building consensus rather than on identifying a “winner” who has developed the more convincing argument. However, the instructor may easily use the materials in a more traditional debate format, or simply as the basis for a general class discussion.
1. Display this image of teen girls in an advertisement from the late 1950s, and discuss the following:
2. Display the following quote from the essay "Good Culture, Bad Girls," by Susan Douglas, and discuss:
In 1960, the year of the Shirelles' first number-one hit, there were approximately 11.7 million girls between the ages of 12 and 17 in the United States and they were exerting increasing economic clout. The average of four dollars a week a girl received as an allowance was spent on cosmetics, magazines, movies, records and clothes. In an effort to tap into this flow of discretionary income, executives in the culture industry, from film producers to admen, sought to produce music, films, TV shows, ads, and magazines that these girls would buy, both literally and figuratively. The goal, of course, was to cash in on this newly identified market of female 'baby boomers.'
Have students write a one paragraph summary of the best argument developed by the groups, acknowledging any counterarguments and including evidence from the texts examined in class.
Teachers of mature students may wish to substitute the Shirelles’ 1960 hit song “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” for “Be My Baby” in this lesson. “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” marked the first No. 1 hit for an all-female group on the American charts. It has also proved an enduring song, and has been recorded by numerous subsequent artists. Carole King, who wrote the lyrics, recorded the song in ballad style for her hit 1971 album Tapestry.
It is up to the instructor to decide whether “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” which hints at a romantic encounter between the singer and the “you” in the song, is appropriate for his or her students. If used, class discussion might cover the impact of the newfound availability of birth control pills in the United States on women’s sexual freedom.
Instructors may also wish to have students compare the Shirelles’ version to King’s later recording, considering the overall mood and effect of each version. Instructors may also wish to address the difference between a group performing a song written by someone else and the artist performing his/her own material. Finally, they may wish to investigate what had changed in the United States that made it commercially viable for a woman to record and perform her own material in 1971, which had not been the case in 1960.
College and Career Readiness Reading Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 for Literature and Informational Text
College and Career Readiness Writing Anchor Standards for Grades 6-12 in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening for Grades 6-12
Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Theme 6: Power, Authority, and Governance
Core Music Standard: Responding
Select: Choose music appropriate for a specific purpose or context.
Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators' and/or performers' expressive intent.
Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
Core Music Standard: Connecting
Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.