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Celebrating the Best Black Girl Groups of All Time


by Gina Torres


While the term “girl group” was not coined until the 1950’s to describe women that sang together, the Black all-women music group has a long history within the U.S., and has had a large impact on American pop culture. There have also been a number of Black women superstars who got their start to fame within music groups. Even the beautiful actress Dorothy Dandridge began her career by singing with her sister Vivian and family friend Etta Jones circa 1934. (Listen to them sing “Undecided” here.) While the girl group hasn’t had the same amount of success in the new millennium as it had in decades prior, many of us still sing along to our favorite girl group tunes. Below are some of the most popular and influential Black girl groups from the past 50 years.


1960’s

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas



The group was originally formed by school friends Annette Beard, Gloria Williams, and Rosalind Ashford. Martha Reeves joined later—and like Diana Ross—eventually became the lead singer, which led to her name receiving separate billing. Together they charted over 26 hit songs, ten of which reached #1 on Billboard’s R&B singles chart. They are best known for the songs “Jimmy Mack,” “Dancing in the Street” (later covered by David Bowie and Mick Jagger), and “Heatwave.”




The Marvelettes


The Marvelettes included members Georgeanna Tillman, Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, and Wanda Young. The group was together for ten years and predated the more popular group, The Supremes. They are best known for “Don’t Mess with Bill” and “Please Mr. Postman.”




The Supremes 


Arguably one of the most successful music groups (of any genre) of all time, The Supremes were Motown Records royalty. The original members were Diana Ross, Florence Ballard, and Mary Wilson. They had 12 #1 hits on Billboard’s Top 100. At the height of their popularity and success were on par with The Beatles. The hit Broadway musical Dreamgirls is allegedly loosely based on The Supremes, though this has been denied by play’s creators. Some of their well known singles are “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Baby Love,” and “You Keep Me Hanging On.”



The Ronettes 



This trio included the Bennett sisters, Estelle and Veronica, and their cousin Nedra Talley. Veronica would eventually be known as Ronnie Spector, and the group’s leading lady. Their association with famed record producer Phil Spector allowed them to benefit from the Wall of Sound, which was a technique used to maximize the sound quality of music played when recorded. The group had several hits, including “(The Best Part of) Breaking Up,” “Walking in the Rain,” and “Be My Baby.” Ronnie Spector’s “woh-oh-ohs” originally heard on “Be My Baby” one of their most popular songs, became her trademark.



1970’s and 1980’s

Sister Sledge 


Giving true meaning to the term "sister act," Sister Sledge became largely popular in the late 1970’s. The group originally included sisters Debbie, Joni, Kathy, and Kim Sledge. They enjoyed a number of successful hits, including “He's the Greatest Dancer,” “Reach Your Peak,” and “I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love.” However, their most popular anthem was 1979’s “We are a Family,” which has became a pop culture hit as it is widely known as the theme song for many family reunions.




The Emotions 


The Emotions were another group known for their beautiful vocals and composed of sisters—Wanda Hutchinson, Sheila Hutchinson, and Jeanette Hutchinson. Although the group was formed in the early 1960’s, they became popular in the late 1970’s. They were associated and collaborated with popular the male group Earth, Wind & Fire. Their most popular songs include “Best of My Love,” “Don’t Ask My Neighbor,” and “Boogie Wonderland,” which they collaborated with Earth, Wind & Fire on.



1990’s and the 2000’s

En Vogue


Originally comprised of Cindy Herron, Dawn Robinson, Maxine Jones, and Terry Ellis, En Vogue was created to pay homage to the stylish and talented girl groups from the previous decades. Their lush harmonies, classic sophistication, and flawless looks accomplished just that. Stand out singles include “Hold On,” “Lies,” and “My Lovin' (You're Never Gonna Get It).” Their 1992 version of “Something He Can Feel,” originally sung by the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, was also a massive hit, popular with both men and women during the time.




TLC



TLC was formed by singers Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins and Rozonda "Chilli" Thomas and rapper Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. The group was largely popular due to their unique look and sound, equally influenced by hip-hop and R&B. Each member also brought a distinct element to the group: Chilli’s urgent vocals, T-Boz’s sexy low register, and Left Eye’s layered rap verses. They enjoyed huge success and popularity through the 90’s with their singles “Creep,” “Waterfalls,” “What About Your Friends,” and “No Scrubs” among others. Although rapper Left Eye passed away in 2002, remaining members Chilli and and T-Boz have promised to make a much-anticipated fifth and final TLC album.




Destiny's Child



When the group debuted in 1998, Destiny’s Child was introduced as the young Supremes, which seemed like a reach at the time. However, with Wycleff Jean’s remix of their single, “No, No, No,” they enjoyed their first number one hit and explosive success. Originally comprised of Beyoncé Knowles, Kelly Rowland, LaToya Luckett, and LaTavia Roberson. Luckett and Roberson would eventually leave the group and be replaced by Michelle Williams and Farrah Franklin, with Franklin leaving the group as well. As a trio, Destiny’s Child became a massive pop culture phenomenon as one of the biggest girl groups of all time. This allowed all three members to enjoy successful solo careers after DC disbanded in 2006. Some of their most popular songs include “Bills, Bills, Bills,” “Say My Name,” “Indepedent Woman Part 1,” “Bootylicious,” and “Survivor.”



Gina Torres is a regular contributor to For Harriet.

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