A New Book Honors ’60s ‘Girl Groups’ Exploited and Overlooked in Music History

The songs of the “girl groups” of the 1960s are a memorable facet of Americana, such as “Chapel of Love” by the Dixie Cups or “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by the Shirelles. Authors Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz sought to rectify the lack of recognition for many of these singers, primarily underpaid Black women tethered by exploitative contracts, with their new oral history book, “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” released by Hachette Books.

Derived from over 100 interviews, “But Will You Love Me Tomorrow” endeavors to accord these long-neglected artists their due acknowledgment. This includes celebrating their role in integrating pop music by performing in front of mixed audiences and highlighting their courage in touring the Jim Crow South. The book also provides an insider’s view of the music industry at the time, shedding light on why these singers were frequently treated as expendable.

In their book, Flam and Liebowitz write, “Maybe if they had lived in another era, the women of the girl groups would have been valued differently.” They point out that many of the young women who formed these groups were seen as fleeting investments by both the music industry and a society that anticipated their retirement to raise children and work closer to home.

Emily Sieu Liebowitz, whose book of poems, “National Park,” earned a longlisting for the Believer Book Award, responded to questions about the book via email.

When asked about their inspiration for writing the book, Liebowitz explained that she and her co-author Laura Flam are avid fans of the girl group sound. They bonded over attending concerts of these groups and realized that information about the women who sang their favorite songs was lacking. This gap led them to embark on the project to document this crucial era in music history and pay homage to the women behind the defining songs.

Regarding their hopes for what readers will take away from the book, Liebowitz expressed a desire for readers to connect the famous pop songs of the era with the stories and names of the girl groups. They hope that readers will recognize these groups when hearing their songs in various contexts, such as at weddings or in movies.

Explaining the timing of telling this story, Liebowitz emphasized the urgency due to the aging of the original artists. While some are still performing, many can no longer do so, and some have passed away. The authors wanted to ensure that readers and audiences could learn about these artists’ contributions while they are still around to receive recognition.

Finally, one of the surprising discoveries made during the writing of the book was the number of celebrities who had their beginnings in girl groups. Notable figures like Diana Ross of the Supremes and Ronnie Spector of the Ronettes are well-known, but others, such as Jimi Hendrix, Cher, and Billy Joel, had early connections to these groups as well.

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