Who are the Cookies?
The Cookies were a 50s-60s all-girl R&B group originating from Brooklyn, New York. Aside from having had achievements in their own right, the Cookies also had successes as a backing group for other artists, most notably Neil Sedaka (“Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Bad Girl and “The Dreamer”), and Little Eva on her hit song “The Loco-Motion”. The Cookies were known to have close associations with the husband-and-wife songwriting partners Gerry Goffin and Carole King. The original members were Dorothy Jones, Darlene McCrea and Beulah Robertson, Jones’ cousin. McCrea and Robertson’s replacement Margie Hendricks then formed the Raelettes, together with Pat Lyles – as backing vocalists to Ray Charles. Other singers such as Darlene’s younger sister Ethel McCrea (known as Earl Jean) and other cousin of Jones named Margaret Ross joined to the fold. Their first charting single was “In Paradise” which reached the Top 10 R&B singles chart. Then they scored higher-charting hits like “Chains” (later to be covered by the Beatles for their 1963 LP Please Please Me) and “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby).” They also recorded under different names such as The Palisades, The Stepping Stones, The Cinderellas, and The Honey Bees also under different labels. Their last record was released in 1967.
The formation of the original Cookies
The Cookies were an all-girl group formed in Brooklyn, New York, in 1953 or 1954. The original members were Dorothy Jones, Ethel (“Darlene”) McCrea and Beulah Robertson, Jones’ cousin. But according to another source, Pat Lyles (who was to be one of the Raelettes) was also an original Cookie; other sources never mention her as such. For now, most sources state that Lyles was a Raelette but never a Cookie.
From the Cookies to the Raelettes
The group made their recording debut on Lamp label, a subsidiary of Aladdin Records. The following year they were signed to Atlantic label, and in 1956 the girls were to enjoy their first hit as Cookies with “In Paradise” (#9 R&B). Around the same period they also worked as session artists for Chuck Willis and Joe Turner; Margie Hendricks (Hendrix) also replaced Beulah Robertson in the Cookies lineup.
The group was introduced to Ray Charles through their session work for Atlantic. From then on they were no longer the Cookies but they were now Ray Charles’ backing girls, the Raelettes. The band was officially formed in the year 1954. In 1958, it performed with Ann Fisher and Ray Charles in the Cavalcade of Jazz concert, which was held to crown Miss Cavalcade, the winner of the Jazz Beauty Contest.
The reincarnation of the Cookies
The all-female group spent the next five years working under the name the Raelettes until 1961. That’s when Jones joined formed the second reincarnation of the Cookies along with newcomers Earl-Jean McCrea (Darlene’s younger sister) and Margaret Ross (Jones’ own cousin). They began their sessions at the Brill Building, cutting demos at Aldon Music (which was responsible for bringing the “Brill Building sound”), under the wings of married songwriting pair Gerry Goffin and Carole King.
As the second generation Cookies, the all-girl trio had successes as session vocalists for Neil Sedaka (notably “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do”), Little Eva (“The Loco-Motion” and “Let’s Turkey Trot”), and Mel Torme (his hit rendition of “Comin’ Home Baby”). Because these hits put the Cookies on the map, they were finally granted with their own session.
The respective mothers of Margaret, Beulah, and Dorothy were sisters, which make them first cousins. While Beulah and Margaret were both prominent members of the Cookies, they were never official members together at the same time. However, both of them performed alongside Dorothy. Earl-Jean and Darlene were sisters, but again were not members of the Cookies at the same time.
The Cookies’ own hits
The session turned out to be quite auspicious for the Cookies for the time being, as they churned out their first pop hit with 1962’s “Chains” (#17 pop, #6 R&B) and 1963’s “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” (#7 pop, #3 R&B). Both of these hits were penned by Goffin-King. In 1963 the girls scored their final Top 40 pop hit with “Girls Grow Up Faster Than Boys” (#33 pop, #18 R&B), written by Goffin and Jack Keller. The Cookies had begun to disintegrate by 1963.
“Chains” was later recorded by the Beatles for their debut album Please Please Me in 1963, earning the Cookies a special place in pop music history.
About the most successful song of the group
“Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad (About My Baby)” is an especially memorable song in the history of the Cookies group. Like many of their other songs, this was written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. To date, this is usually considered to be the most successful single by the group and is also the only one of their singles to attain a top ten spot on the U.S singles charts.
A critic named Richie Unterberger reviewed this song in AllMusic and stated that:
“The mindset of “Don’t Say Nothin’ Bad About My Baby” was sassy girl talk at its best … The mood of the song as a whole, however, is catchy pop-rock with a bit of cool-jazz overlay, with a honking King Curtis-sounding sax solo in the instrumental break”
This single reached the number seven spot on the U.S Billboard Hot 100 and the third spot on the Billboard R&B Singles charts. Both of these achievements were in 1963, the same year that the song was released. It also reached number 17 in Canada and ranked 86 on Billboard’s list of the 100 Greatest Girl Group Songs of All Time.
Earl-Jean McCrea leaves the Cookies
Earl-Jean McCrea left the Cookies to pursue a solo career. It seemed promising as first with her original rendition of “I’m Into Something Good,” another Goffin-King song. Unfortunately for her, another act made a more popular version; British pop band Herman’s Hermits recorded their own rendition which turned into a top 20 Billboard hit in 1964. This overshadowed the original record and and its singer herself.The Cookies, later on…
The Cookies’ last record was issued in 1967, and produced by the Tokens. The group had also performed under several aliases for different labels: The Palisades, The Stepping Stones, The Cinderellas, and the Honey Bees. The Cookies are still active touring up to the present, with Margaret Ross (now Williams) being ably supported by new members.
Jones died in 2010, and Darlene McCrea passed away in 2013.
While the Cookies might not be a well-known band, they were instrumental in bringing about many popular and iconic songs. Music lovers might be interested in looking up their original songs and enjoying the voices they are already familiar in a new way.