Shirley Gunter and The Queens / The Flairs©1999JCMarion


In the spring of 1954, a new vocal group was formed in Los Angeles.What made this R & B vocal group a bit different was the fact that all of the members were female. The lead singer was named Shirley Gunter and the group was known as The Queens. In a short time they were put in touch with the Bihari Brothers operators of the Modern, RPM, Flair, and Meteor labels. After some time rehearsing they were ready to get before the recording microphones. Soon a bright and bouncy rhythm number with an infectious boogie beat was issued on the Flair label (#1050), and it was titled "Oop Shoop". The flip side was "It's You", but all eyes were on the uptempo number. Soon the record was selling big on the West coast and a pop cover record was out on Mercury Records by The Crewcuts, fresh off their cover of The Chords "Sh-Boom". The like sounding title was not a second lucky charm for the Crews, but it proved that a lot of people were listening to R & B music during the summer of '54.

Shirley Gunter & The Queens were hot and they had a featured spot in a big review staged by Joe Bihari at L.A.'s Savoy Ballroom. The show was mc'ed by Hunter Hancock and featured BB King, Johnny Otis, The Platters, The Lamplighters, and Marvin & Johnny. Later that month the group appeared with the Don Johnson Orchestra at the 5-4 Ballroom, further local coast appearances with Amos Milburn, and then prepared to tour throughout November with Roy Milton & His Solid Senders. Just as sales were beginning to wane for "Shoop" came their brand new release on Flair #1060 called "You're Mine" / "Why". The 'A' side "You're Mine" was a perfect follow to the first hit and it was in a like style featuring a bouncy boogie beat and tricky false ending. This time the record proved to be really big as Alan Freed was now in New York and the rock and roll revolution was on in earnest. "You're Mine" came very close to achieving pop hit status. Toward the end of the year The Queens toured the Southwest with a show that featured Roy Milton, Camille Howard, The Penguins, and The Flairs. In early January Shirley & The Queens made their first east coast tour.

In February back home in California, the group appeared at a huge R & B review at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Trying for their third hit in a row, the formula seemed to have run its course. There was far more competition now because of the spread of the music's popularity, and because of this the stakes were considerably higher. In March "Baby I Love You So" / "What Difference Does It Make" on Flair #1065 stiffed as did "That's The Way I Like It"/"Gimmee Gimmee Gimmee" in June on #1070 and in August "Ipsy Opsie Ooh" and "How Can I Tell You" on Flair #1076. In an indication of what lie ahead, Shirley went out on tour as a solo performer with Young Jessie and The Flairs in September, and later in the year appeared as a solo on Hunter Hancock's TV show. The Queens were now officially disbanded as Shirley carried on as a solo performer in February 1956 at the Rock & Roll Jubilee at the Shrine and the Rock-A-Rama the following month with The Penguins, Three Chuckles and Eddie Fontaine. Buck Ram's Personality Productions, his talent production company signs Shirley and is presented along with The Platters, The Penguins, The Colts, Sugar & Spice, and The Blockbusters, at a musical presentation in New York City in April. In May at the urging of Buck Ram, Shirley becomes part of the Flairs vocal group. Their first release for Modern Records is #989 "Heading Home" and "I Want You". In June Shirley Gunter & The Flairs appear at New York's Apollo Theater with The Cadillacs and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Following this appearance the newly formed group does a tour of the East. It is another member of the Gunter family, Cornell who leads the Flairs to their biggest hit ever, "In Self Defense" at this time.

Influential Chicago R & B radio personality The Magnificent Montague of WAAF, rates "Heading Home" as the number 5 record in the city of Chicago. California dj Al Jarvis holds a big Rock and Roll extravaganza at the Pomona County fairgrounds in July, and Shirley and The Flairs appear with The Platters, The Six Teens, The Turks, and Joe Houston. In September, Modern #1001 is released by Shirley & The Flairs. It is "I Just Got Rid Of A Heartache" and "Fortune In Love". Buck ram comes up with a concept of Happy Music ('The Happy Beat For Happy Feet') which features The Platters, Young Jessie, Dolly Cooper, and Shirley & The Flairs. The unit will tour Toronto and Montreal Canada, and the Paramount Theaters in the United States. At years end, Modern Records produces an LP called "Hollywood Rock And Roll Hop" and features tunes by Shirley Gunter & The Flairs.

Shirley Gunter goes out on a number of one nighters with Vernon Green & The Medallions throughout the West Coast. By 1958 Shirley was now recording for the Storm Records label. The tunes are "Believe Me" and "Crazy Little Baby". Before they could be released they were bought by the Tender Records company and released on Tender #511. Shirley Gunter, a veteran of four years in the R & B limelight and the novelty had long since worn off. She and the Flairs soon went their separate ways and eventually faded into our memory banks. She left behind three enduring musical memories for us - the two fabulous jump tunes with The Queens, and a fine ballad with The Flairs "Heading Home". Shirley Gunter - a woman ahead of her time.

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