60s Oldies Music

Introduction to the Chiffons

The Chiffons
Photo of The Chiffons after they became a 4-girl group. (Source: Wikipedia)

Who are the Chiffons?
The Chiffons were an African-American all-girl vocal group primarily known for their hits “He’s So Fine” and “One Fine Day.” They were one of the top female groups in the early 1960s. The Chiffons were originally a trio, consisting of Judy Craig on lead vocals, Patricia Bennett and Barbra Lee, schoolmates at the Bronx’s James Monroe High School in 1960. Singer Sylvia Peterson joined the group later. The Chiffons released the hit single “He’s So Fine” in 1963, topping the national chart. They also scored another Top 10 hit “One Fine Day” also in 1963. Personnel shifts occurred within the group. Seven years later after “He’s So Fine” became a hit, former Beatle George Harrison released a song called “My Sweet Lord,” which bore musical similarities to the Chiffons’ hit. This prompted the group and their publisher to sue Harrison for copyright infringement. The court ruled that Harrison “subconsciously” plagiarized the song. In later years, the group has undergone several reincarnations, with Craig the only original member active along with newer singers.

Early formation and first charting single
The origins of the Chiffons hark back to New York’s The Bronx area, in 1960. The group was originally composed of Judy Craig, Patricia Bennett and Barbara Lee, all schoolmates at James Monroe’s High School. Ronald Mack discovered the girls singing at their school canteen, and designated himself to be their manager. He also became the group’s chief songwriter.

At Mack’s suggestion, the band hired another singer Sylvia Peterson, who had previously sung with Little Jimmy and The Tops.

The Chiffons’ first charting single was “Tonight’s The Night,” released on Big Deal label. It was a minor hit in 1960, at #76 on the Billboard Hot 100. Their second charting single, the Barry-Greenwich composition “When the Boy’s Happy (The Girl’s Happy Too)” languished at the lower reaches of the Hot 100.

 

Breakthrough success
The Chiffons released their first LP He’s So Fine in late 1962 (it would later reach its peak position at #97 on the Billboard 200). The title track, written by Mack, was released as a single in late 1962. Entering the charts in February 1963, “He’s So Fine” reached #1 on both the pop and R&B singles charts (#16 on the UK singles chart). The “doo-lang, doo-lang, doo-lang” background vocal of the song is instantly recognizable.

The Chiffons also recorded and released a couple of other tracks under an alternate moniker The Four Pennies, with Sylvia on lead vocals. However, they decided to keep the Chiffons name after learning of the chart success for “He’s So Fine.”

 

The success of “He’s So Fine” was followed by a Goffin-King penned tune “One Fine Day,” which entered the charts during the summer of 1963. It went to #5 on the pop charts and #6 on the R&B singles chart, and has since become a pop classic.

 

Still soldiering on
The Chiffons had recorded and released other memorable songs such as “I Have A Boyfriend” (#36 pop, #6 R&B), and their last Top Ten pop hit single “Sweet Talkin’ Guy” (at #10).

As the 1960s wore on, the Chiffons experienced financial straits and personnel shifts, but for the time being these didn’t prevent them from touring. They were reduced to a trio when Judy Craig left the group to consider a more practical job. Eventually, all of them began to hold their own regular jobs but continued to perform on weekends. Sylvia, who had since become the lead singer, left the group.

In 1970 former Beatle George Harrison released his own solo single “My Sweet Lord,” whose riff resembled the Chiffon’s “He’s So Fine.” The musical similarities caused the Chiffons and their publisher to bring a copyright infringement suit against Harrison. The judge ruled the Harrison unintentionally plagiarized “He’s So Fine” and ordered the latter to pay substantial damages.

In later years, Patterson returned to the group in the 1980s before leaving again for good in the 1990s. Barbara Lee suffered a fatal heart attack and 1992. Craig returned to the group in the 1990s and has remained there since, being the only original member left still active.