Introduction to the Bobbettes
The Bobbettes were an American R&B group. Their first single, the uptempo track called “Mr. Lee”, went to the Top 10 singles chart and topped the R&B chart in 1957. They actually had the original version of “Mr. Lee,” which the girls wrote themselves, but rejected by Atlantic. It painted a not-so-pretty picture of the real-life Mr. Lee who was their schoolteacher. Subsequent singles didn’t do well, and so they recorded the original version of “Mr. Lee” as “I Shot Mr. Lee,” which Atlantic Records, once again, refused to release. The Bobbettes then left the label and signed up with Teddy Vann label where they finally released “I Shot Mr. Lee.” It went to #52 on the Hot 100, forcing Atlantic to release the song. They also recorded for other labels such as Diamond, RCA Victor and Mayhew before breaking up in 1974, although they would tour in oldies circuits years after.
The formation of the Bobbettes
The Bobbettes were an an all-girl R&B group, considered among the first successful acts in the once-male-dominated music world. Their single “Mr. Lee” was a phenomenal success for them both on the R&B singles chart and the Hot 100 singles chart as well.
They consisted of sisters Janine and Emma Pought, Reather Dixon, Laura Webb and Helen Gathers — all of them met while singing in the glee club of Harlem’s P.S. 109. After acquiring their own manager James Dailey, the girls sound found themselves occupying evening gigs at the famed Apollo Theather.
The girls were initially known as the Harlem Queens. Through Dailey’s help the girls landed their first recording contract with Atlantic label. They were also re-named as the Bobettes, which they’d be using from now on.
The Bobbettes released their debut single titled “Mr. Lee,” which they wrote themselves. In the song, the narrator was having a crush on her high school teacher Mr. Lee. But this was far from the truth. The Bobbettes actually had the original song which painted a not-so-pretty picture of Mr. Lee, who was actually their real-life teacher they all quite disliked. They wanted to release the original “Mr. Lee”; however, Atlantic urged them to revise the song.
Issued as a single, “Mr. Lee” first appeared on the charts in the summer of 1957. It eventually climbed to #6 on the Billboard Hot 100 and even went to #1 on the Billboard’s R&B singles chart. This was a rare feat for an all-female group during that era.
“I Shot Mr. Lee”
However, “Mr. Lee” was also to be the group’s only Top 10 hit on any charts. Four follow-up novelty singles on Atlantic failed to make a dent on the charts. So the Bobbettes decided to record the original “Mr. Lee,” re-titled as “I Shot Mr. Lee.” However, Atlantic staunchly refused to release it. So the girls left Atlantic and signed to Teddy Vann’s Triple-X label, where they were able to finally release “I Shot Mr. Lee.”
As “I Shot Mr. Lee” was fast climbing on the Hot 100, Atlantic was forced to release their own version of the song, therefore effectively ending the song’s ascent on the charts. This is the reason why “I Shot Mr. Lee” stalled at #52 on the pop chart in 1960.
Following singles such as “Have Mercy Baby” and “Dance With Me. Georgie” left little impact on the charts. Also, in 1960 the Bobbettes moved to End Records and released the standard favorite “Teach Me Tonight,” as well as their last charting single, their cover of singer-songwriter’s Chris Kenner’s “I Don’t Like It Like That,” an answer to Kenner’s own composition “I Like It Like That” (which was later turned into a hit by The Dave Clark Five in 1965).
The Bobbettes also recorded for various labels such as Diamond, RCA Victor and Mayhew before disbanding in 1974. But in later years they would tour in the oldies circuits years after.
Most of the members have gone. Jannie Pought died in 1980 (she was stabbed to death by a someone she didn’t know). Webb died in 2001, Gathers in 2011 and Dixon in 2014. Only Emma Pought is the only remaining surviving member of the Bobbettes.