In some ways, the girl group known as the Bobbettes was a typical one-hit wonder. (Although you might remember that I argued a while back that the term shouldn’t be used so negatively.) The Bobbettes did qualify for the sobriquet, with 1957’s “Mr. Lee” hitting #1 on R&B charts and even climbing into the Top Ten on pop charts, although later records all fell far short. But that’s still pretty good, when you consider that the group’s lead singer was only eleven when it all started.
That was young Reather Dixon, who joined with school friends and fellow glee club members Laura Webb, Helen Gathers, and sisters Jannie and Emma Pought to form a singing group they initially called the Harlem Queens. The girls were soon appearing in amateur shows at the Apollo Theater, making a big splash and attracting the attention of James Dailey, who helped get them a contract with Atlantic Records.
Daily also changed the group’s name to the Bobbettes to soften its image a little, and helped produce its debut record. It was a harmless little song about a teacher who the girls actually disliked, but in the song, “Mr. Lee” was made to sound good. (They later recorded a more accurate – and critical – version they named “I Shot Mr. Lee,” but it became one of the reasons they left Atlantic after the company balked at issuing it.) After “Mr. Lee” became a huge hit they were big-time stars, even touring with the likes of Clyde McPhatter, Frankie Lymon, and Dion & The Belmonts.
Over the next several years the Bobbettes did sell some records with songs like “Have Mercy Baby,” “I Don’t Like It Like That,” and a few others, and the girls certainly kept spinning out new releases. But they never again approached the popularity of “Mr. Lee,” and by the late 1960s had begun to evolve into a smaller group, sometimes singing background for others. By the 1970s the original Bobbettes had dissolved, although various members have reunited from time to time through the years for oldies shows.