"Dressed in black": the Shangri-Las and their recorded legacy

Lisa MacKinney

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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[Truncated] This thesis is the first ever full-length study of the Shangri-Las, a female teenage pop group from Cambria Heights in Queens, New York. Sisters Mary and Betty Weiss, and twins Mary Ann and Marguerite Ganser formed the group while attending school together in the early 1960s, and are most famous for their single “Leader of the Pack.” Despite enjoying an enduring following among rock fans and musicians, the Shangri-Las have been trivialised in a variety of important and lastingly influential ways by mainstream rock criticism, which is the context in which the bulk of commentary on the group has been published. This study examines the reasons for and manners in which this has received expression, which are complex, interconnected, and not always immediately obvious. As very young women, the Shangri-Las had relatively little agency within a male-dominated recording industry that perceived teenagers as fodder for manipulation and exploitation. Typically, this has been used as an excuse to devalue the musical input of the group members, and marginalise their recordings within a canon of perceived ‘authentic’ rock music. This thesis argues for a substantial rethinking and acknowledgment of the Shangri-Las’ considerable abilities, talent and musicality, and the centrality of their performances to the Shangri-Las’ largely unacknowledged artistic achievement.
This thesis is divided into three sections. Part One examines the critical reception of the Shangri-Las, which has been dominated by their rigid inclusion within an anachronistic ‘genre’ known as ‘girl groups.’ I unpack the origins of this terminology, and demonstrate that it was not in use as a term denoting a specific genre (as it is currently understood) until the early 1970s, when it gained currency among rock journalists in conjunction with particularly problematic understandings of the place of girls and women in rock music. This has had significant implications for the young performers categorised in this gendered manner, but particularly for the Shangri-Las.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Publication statusUnpublished - 2012


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