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Profile: The Chantels


The Chantels

The Chantels

source: thechantels.com

Claims to fame:

  • The first successful modern "girl group" of the rock era
  • Their 1958 hit "Maybe" is considered the standard by which other girl group songs are judged
  • Lead singer Arlene Smith was one of the very first female rock performers to write her own material


Girl-group, R&B, Doo-Wop


Arlene Smith (born October 5, 1941 in in New York City, NY): lead vocals
Lois Harris (born 1940, New York, NY): vocals (top soprano)
Sonia Goring (born 1940, New York, NY): vocals (second soprano)
Rene Minus (born 1943, New York, NY): vocals (first alto/bass)
Jackie Landry Jackson (born May 22, 1941 in New York, NY; died December 23, 1997, New York, NY): vocals (second alto)


1956, The Bronx, New York, NY

Early years:

All five of the Chantels started their musical journey at St. Anthony of Padua school in the Bronx, where they'd been singing together since the second grade. Classically trained, they were adept at Gregorian chants and traditional Christian hymns; indeed, lead Arlene Smith had performed at Carnegie Hall at the age of twelve. By 1956, the quintet had begun performing at church and community events and sharing the stage with doo-wop pioneers like the Crows. When the group ran into another group, The Valentines, lead Valentine Richard Barrett was so impressed with their talent he offered them a session on the spot.


Barrett, also an A&R man at Roulette Records, eventually made good on his promise, recording two songs written by lead singer Arlene on her home piano: "The Plea" and "He's Gone." The latter was the a-side, and while it made the Hot 100, the group's real success came with the next release, Arlene's "Maybe." An instant classic, the song almost singlehandedly created the "girl group" sound with its plaintive and dramatic delivery. The followups "Every Night (I Pray)" and "I Love You So" also charted. But the girls were too young to tour, and as a result the label promotion -- and therefore the hits -- soon fell off.

Later years:

By 1959 Arlene had left for a solo career, while Lois Harris dropped out to become a nurse. Undaunted, Richard Barrett first replaced Arlene's lead with his own vocals, and then with Annette Smith, from fellow vocal group The Veneers. With the real girl group craze just starting, the Chantels managed to keep scoring minor chart hits through 1961, but though they recorded throughout the decade, their hitmaking days were over. Smith led a new group of Chantels during the oldies revival in 1973; today, the other four original members (minus Landry, who succumbed to cancer in 1997) tour with new lead Ami Ortiz.

Other facts and trivia:

  • The group's name was inspired by Padua school rival St. Francis de Chantelle, whose basketball team Smith played against
  • "Maybe" was recorded at a Manhattan church instead of a studio, because the acoustics were better
  • The Chantels' 1962 single "Well, I Told You" was an answer record to Ray Charles' "Hit The Road, Jack"
  • Arlene Smith worked with Phil Spector after leaving the group and later attended Juilliard
  • The original group members (minus Landry) reunited for the 1997 PBS special Doo Wop 50


  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2002)
  • Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award (1996)

Songs, hits, and albums:

Top 10 hits:

"Maybe" (1958)
"Look In My Eyes" (1961)

Other important songs: "He's Gone," "Every Night (I Pray)," "I Love You So," "Summer's Love," "Well, I Told You," "Eternally," "The Plea," "Come My Little Baby," "Every Night," "Whoever You Are," "How Could You Call It Off," "Prayee," "Sure Of Love," "If You Try," "Ific," "Congratulations," "I Can't Take It," "Never Let Go," "I'm Confessin'," "Goodbye To Love," "I," "Believe Me (My Angel)," "There's Our Song Again," "I'm the Girl," "Mon Cherie Au Revoir," "To Live My Life Again," "Glad To Be Back," "Still," "Here It Comes Again," "Summertime," "Swamp Water," "That's Why You're Happy," "Some Tears Fall Dry," "There's No Forgetting You," "Take Me As I Am," "You're Welcome To My Heart," "Soul Of A Soldier," "Indian Giver," "It's Just Me," "I'm Gonna Win Him Back," "Love Makes All The Difference In the World"

Covered by: Janis Joplin, The Shangri-Las, Patti Austin, Dave Edmunds, The Three Degrees, Lou Ann Barton, Lonnie Brooks, Chuck Jackson, The Crystals, John Frusciante

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