Shirley Gunter is often credited with helping to jumpstart the popularity of R&B girl groups in the 1950s. Gunter grew up in a musical family, singing and writing music with her mother and her brother Cornell (who went on to become a member of the Coasters).
In her early teens, Gunter formed a group with Blondene Taylor, Lula Bee Kinney, and Lula Mae Suggs. They performed and recorded together as “Shirley Gunter and the Queens.” Some contemporary sources also indicate that Zola Taylor (later of the Platters) also sang with the group, although it does not appear she was on any of their recordings. In 1954, Gunter and Taylor co-wrote an uptempo doo-wop song called “Oop Shoop,” which the Queens cut for Flair records. The song performed well on the national R&B charts that fall, and it was soon covered by the Crew Cuts, who had a national pop hit with it. The Queens toured on the success of the song.
Etta James recalled in her autobiography that “the Queens were the first female group where all the gals could sing. Shirley sang her ass off. Blondene quit the group to travel as my companion. She could play piano but mainly she could play men.” With Taylor’s departure, the group was broken up by 1956.
After the Queens, Gunter pursued a solo career. She recorded several sides in the later half of the 1950s, with her brother Cornell’s group the Flairs as well as solo. Her manager, Buck Ram, managed a number of successful doo-wop groups. Gunter appeared on a number of rock and roll shows and tours, sharing a bill with acts like Bill Haley, Frankie Lymon, Shirley & Lee, and Chuck Berry.
Shirley Gunter and the Queens. “Oop Shoop” / “It’s You.” Flair 1050 (1954)
Shirley Gunter and the Queens. “You’re Mine” / “Why.” Flair 1060 (1955)
Shirley Gunter And The Flairs. “Fortune In Love” / “I Just Got Rid Of A Heartache.” Modern 45X1001 (1956).
Shirley Gunter. “I’m Sorry” / “I’ve Been Searching.” Modern 45X1011 (1957).
“Rock and Roll Gets Refined for Theaters,” Billboard, 17 March 1956, 1.
“Shirley Gunter Helped to Keep Good Ol’ Soul Stirring Days Alive,” New York Age Defender, 24 November 1956.
“4,500 Rock ’n Roll Fans Roar at Auditorium Show,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, NY), 27 October 1956.
Will Jones, “After Last Night,” Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN), 9 November 1956.
Etta James and David Ritz, Rage to Survive: The Etta James Story (Da Capo, 1995), 71–73.