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Profile: The Mamas and the Papas


The Mamas and the Papas

The Mamas and the Papas

source: myspace.com


1964 (New York, NY)


Folk-rock, pop


"Papa" John Phillips (b. August 30, 1935, Parris Island, SC; d. March 18, 2001, Los Angeles, CA): vocals (baritone)
"Mama" Cass Elliot (b. Ellen Naomi Cohen, September 19, 1941, Baltimore, MD; d. July 29, 1974, London, England): vocals (alto)
Denny Doherty (b. November 29, 1941, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, d. January 19, 2007, Mississauga, Ontario, CAN): vocals (tenor)
Michelle Phillips (b. Holly Michelle Gilliam, June 4, 1945, Long Beach, CA): vocals (soprano)

Contributions to music:

  • Arguably the most successful of the Sixties' folk-rock bands
  • Helped put California on the musical map with their sunny pop arrangements while embodying the Sixties West Coast dream
  • John Phillips is considered one of the era's great songwriters
  • The group's peerless harmonies were the envy of many pop groups of the time
  • "Mama" Cass remains a crucial feminine icon of the era, and is considered one of pop's great divas

Early years:

Mamas and the Papas founder "Papa" John Phillips had been active in the New York music scene since 1957, singing doo-wop, rock, and folk, when he met Holly Michelle Gilliam, an aspiring actress and model, at the Greenwich Village's legendary folk hangout the hungry i. Smitten, John soon left his first wife for Michelle, inviting her to join his folk group The Journeymen. Denny Doherty of the Mugwumps (which included future members of the Lovin' Spoonful) soon joined and suggested local jazz/folk singer Mama Cass, also from his band. John resisted at first due to Cass' overweight appearance, but her talent won out.


After a side trip to the Virgin Islands, the four went to Los Angeles, where record producer Lou Adler was instantly taken by the foursome's magic harmonies and Phillips' original songwriting. One of those songs, "California Dreamin'," became an instant smash in the winter of 1965, and several singles followed, including "I Saw Her Again," which Denny and John had written about an affair Denny had been having with Michelle, John's wife! Complicating matters almost instantly was Cass' unrequited love for Denny and a steady diet of drugs, namely hallucinogens like LSD. (Michelle was actually replaced for a time briefly in 1966.)

Later years:

In the end, the love affairs, drug use, and what Cass saw as a general disrespect for her by other members of the band led to the group's demise in 1968. Cass began a successful solo career before her death from a heart attack in 1974; John became a notorious drug addict, leading to a famous bust in 1980, and Michelle went on to a second career as the actress she always wanted to be. John passed on from a heart attack himself in 2001, while Denny continued to form various tributes to his old band until his death in 2007 from complications arising from abdominal aneurysm surgery.

Other facts:

  • John Phillips penned "San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair)," a hit for Scott McKenzie, and also co-wrote the Beach Boys' "Kokomo"
  • John is the father of actress MacKenzie Phillips; John and Michelle are parents to Chynna Phillips of Wilson Phillips fame; Michelle is stepmother to model/actress Bijou Phillips
  • Michelle was given half the writing credit for "California Dreamin'" simply for taking down the lyrics as John wrote them
  • Legend has it that Cass Elliot developed her higher vocal range after being hit on the head by a pipe
  • Despite the urban myth, Cass Elliot did not die from choking on a ham sandwich


  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1998)
  • GRAMMY Award (1966)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2000)
  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (2001)
  • Recorded work:

    #1 hits:
    • "Monday, Monday" (1966)
    (1971) Top 10 hits:
    • "California Dreamin'" (1966)
    • "I Saw Her Again" (1966)
    • "Creeque Alley" (1967)
    • "Dedicated To The One I Love" (1967)
    • "Words Of Love" (1967)
    #1 albums:
    • If You Can Believe Your Eyes And Ears (1966)
    Top 10 albums:
    • The Mamas & The Papas (1966)
    • Farewell To The First Golden Era (1967)
    • The Mamas & The Papas Deliver (1967)
    Other important recordings: "Straight Shooter," "I Call Your Name," "Go Where You Wanna Go," "Look Through My Window," "No Salt On Her Tail," "Trip, Stumble And Fall," "Glad To Be Unhappy," "Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)," "Dancing Bear," "Dream A Little Dream Of Me," "Even If I Could," "That Kind Of Girl," "Free Advice," "Did You Ever Want To Cry," "Safe In My Garden," "For The Love Of Ivy"
    Covered by: R.E.M., The Beach Boys, The Beautiful South, The Four Tops, The 5th Dimension, The Cowsills, Bobby Womack, The Ventures, The Seekers, Marianne Faithfull, Pennywise, The Carpenters,Neil Diamond
    Appears in the movies: "Monterey Pop" (1968)
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