BY WALTER OPINDE
On this day, 19th June, 1936, an African-American R&B singer, songwriter, and actress, Shirley Mae Goodman was born in New Orleans. Shirley Goodman was best known as one half of Shirley and Lee, a 1950s duo. Later in her career, she had a resurgence with the disco hit “Shame, Shame, Shame” in the 1970s.
After singing in different church choirs, Goodman recorded her first demo with a group of friends in 1950. Some months later, her solo voice caught the attention of Aladdin Records owner Eddie Messner, who tracked her down and paired her as a duo with another school friend, Leonard Lee. As ‘Shirley & Lee’, they recorded their debut single “I’m Gone”, produced by Cosimo Matassa, which ranked number #2 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1952. The record contrasted Goodman’s soprano with Leonard’s baritone, in a way in which subsequent songwriters have suggested was influential on the development of ska and reggae.
In their early songs produced as a duo, they pretended as if they were in love and were dubbed the name “Sweethearts of the Blues”. However, by 1956, they changed style and recorded “Let the Good Times Roll,” which became their biggest hit single reaching #1 on the United States R&B chart and #20 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. They sold mo0re than one million copies, and were awarded a gold disc. However, a follow-up single “I Feel Good” (not to be confused with their 1955 single “Feel So Good”), also made the charts, the duos later releases were less successful, and the pair moved to the Warwick label in 1959. Goodman and Leonard split up in 1963. Leonard made some subsequent solo records with little success. In the mid-1960s, Goodman moved to California, where she worked as a session singer on records by Sonny and Cher, Dr. John and others, and also formed a duo for a time with Jessie Hill. She sang backing vocals on The Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street album, but then briefly retired from the music industry.
On October 15, 1971, Shirley & Lee were reunited for only one show at the Madison Square Garden in New York City. The playbill included musicians of the early rock era, including Chuck Berry, Bobby Rydell, and Bo Diddley. Later, in 1974, as Shirley Goodman Pixley, she was contacted by her friend Sylvia Robinson, previously of the duo Mickey and Sylvia and now co-owner of the All Platinum record label, and was persuaded to record the lead vocal on a dance track, “Shame, Shame, Shame.” Credited to Shirley & Company, the record became an international pop hit, reaching #12 on the Billboard Chart and presaging the disco boom. On May 17, 1974, Shirley & Lee reunited once again to perform “Let the Good Times Roll” on a special edition of the NBC musical series The Midnight Special.
After a few further recordings and tours, Goodman finally retired from the music industry after returning to New Orleans in the late 1970s. In 1976, Leonard Lee, who had become a social worker, died of a heart attack, at the age of 40 years.
After suffering a stroke in 1994, Shirley relocated to California, and died on 5th July, 2005, in Los Angeles. She was buried in New Orleans, a month and a half before Hurricane Katrina.
Read more of the story via:
Betts, Graham (2004). Complete UK Hit Singles 1952-2004 (1st ed.). London: Collins. p. 698.
Whitburn, Joel (1996). Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-1995. Record Research. p. 398.