How did you start out? Where were you living?
Well, we were born and raised in San Francisco, California. We started
out as dancers. We were all fairly strong dancers. We started doing
hospital benefits and radio and Air Force shows. They needed artists
to go on USO shows. The whole dancing school would go. We just decided
one day, amongst the three of us, to try singing. So we'd go on
the bus trip with all the dancers and do these camp shows. One time,
at one of the Army shows, there was a vocal coach in the audience.
She said she liked our sound, and offered to teach us harmony. That's
how it all started.
You were terribly young at the time.
I was about four when we turned professional, but I was only two
when I followed my sisters into dancing school and learned acrobatics.
I suppose dancing didn't come as naturally to me as it did to the
others. Singing came more naturally for me.
CHARLOTTE: Your mother had a career in music. She must have pushed
you quite hard.
PRISCILLA: It's thanks to our mother that we were in the business
at all. She had been an opera singer with the San Francisco Opera.
She gave it all up to marry my father when she was 15. She kind
of continued her career vicariously through us. She gave us a lot
CHARLOTTE: Albeth, what kind of songs were you singing at that
ALBETH: We had a great number, "Ragtime Cowboy Joe".
We came out toting guns and twirling them, which our father taught
us to do. I distinctly remember one time getting hit in the eye
with a gun and having to go on stage with a black eye. We sang and
we danced. We had tap shoes, fringes and cowboys hats. It was very
SHERRELL: We were one step up from Gypsy Rose Lee, I think.
ALBETH: Anyway, those were the days of big production numbers.
You did a lot of choreography within the framework of your songs.
At the end of that particular routine we had a tremendous finish:
Sherrell jumped on my back - see, I was the oldest and the biggest
- and we scooped up Priscilla with Sherrell's legs, which were sticking
out in front. And that's how we got off the stage.
SHERRELL: Twirling our guns. Don't forget it, twirling!
CHARLOTTE: You were discovered by the Andrews Sisters, is that
right? How did that happen?
SHERRELL: We used to go and watch them at a little theatre in downtown
San Francisco. We would cut out of school - we were still in grammar
school - and sit in the audience and watch them. We were dressed
alike and mouthed all the words. We tried to emulate them in every
way possible. Finally, they noticed us and asked us to come backstage
to watch the show. They called us out on stage and we sang "Rum
And Coca Cola" with them. Now, who was the bandleader? Was
it Patty's husband? It was about a hundred years ago!
CHARLOTTE: So you started out in that '40s and '50s mode of singing,
like the Fontaines and the McGuires.
PRISCILLA: Like the Andrews Sisters. That's who we were patterned
after. Our mother taught us all their songs - "Pennsylvania
Polka", "Rum And Coca Cola". We had the same kind
of harmony and the same kind of sound, being that we were real sisters.
Sherrell did the bass and I did the lead, like Patty did, because
I was the youngest. It was a wonderful sound.
CHARLOTTE: What did you think of the other sister groups that were
around at the time?
ALBETH: They were great. They had a marvellous sound. There's something
about being related that gives a special flavour to the harmonics.
The King Sisters, they had a great sound. And the Dinning Sisters,
and the De Castros.
PRISCILLA: And the Lennon Sisters, don't forget them. Well, you
know, I don't know how my sisters felt, but to me none of that existed.
I knew the Andrews Sisters existed, because we had to rehearse their
numbers, and we went to see them and we knew them. To me, the only
thing that was important was going to school and making friends.
SHERRELL: We worked with the McGuire Sisters. They were very, very
sophisticated. We did the Arthur Godfrey Show and we met the girls
at that time. We learned how to use make-up by watching them. We
sat in the dressing room and watched them. We had never used make-up
to that extent, or extreme, before. We learned that from them.
ALBETH: We worked with the King Sisters in Lake Tahoe. We were
very young, and it was our first nighclub act. They were next door
at Harry's Club, which was a very big club in Tahoe. They did a
take-off on us on closing night - closing night used to be a big
deal. They put wigs on and came on stage and did a Paris Sisters
take-off, which was kind of cute, to say "Bon voyage".
CHARLOTTE: The Paris Sisters seem to have been somewhere between
a 1950s white starlet group and . . .
ALBETH: We were out of our time. We were too late for the three-part
harmony sound we'd been trained in, and a little too early for the
girl-lead-in-front sound, which is what we had our hit records with.
CHARLOTTE: Now, were you all lying about your ages? I read somewhere
that your father . . .
ALBETH: Yes, we lied about our ages. We still do. We started working
Vegas at such a young age. Well, Priscilla was about nine when we
first played Vegas, and I wasn't much older. I'm the oldest.
CHARLOTTE: How old were you pretending to be?
ALBETH: I think I had to be 16. I remember one incident when I
was like 13, right at the end of our Vegas time, I was in the bathroom
and a lady came in and asked me how old I was. I asked her how old
she thought. She'd seen us on stage, and she said, "35"!
Of course, I was flattered. Today I would also be flattered if someone
said I looked 35.
SHERRELL: So yes, our father falsified our birth certificates to
make us older. When we started touring, Albeth had to pretend to
be 21, so she could act as our chaperone or guardian.
PRISCILLA: I can't change my passport back. It's true, because
the date is taken off your birth certificate. I'd not only like
to change it back, but to take it down a few years. This business
is one where when you're young you have to act older, and as you
get older and more mature - hopefully more mature - you have to
be kind of younger. Although, I do want to say one thing: I'm singing
again after quite a break, and I never really talk about my age.
All that matters, about being older, is being able to sing the way
I wanna sing now. Doing the songs the way I want is the most wonderful
thing in the world. I've always loved singing, but I never could
do what I wanted to do. At first, I had to do what was best for
the Paris Sisters. Then I had to do what was best for Phil Spector.
Then somebody wanted me to copy Billie Holiday and somebody wanted
me to do something else. Now I'm doing me, Priscilla, and it's wonderful.
Maturity is fun.
CHARLOTTE: So how did you meet Phil Spector?
SHERRELL: That came about through our mother. She was a very aggressive
little lady. Excuse me, she's still aggressive, and a little shorter
now. We had been on odd little labels and had made funny Christmas
records that sounded like the Chipmunks. Our mother brought the
contract about. She got us to a man named Lester Sill, and his protégé
was Phil Spector. They were looking for groups to record. Phil came
to our home and sat with us and interviewed us. He had us sing separately
and listened to each voice. Priscilla had the softest voice, which
he preferred for the records. And that was it, we started recording
CHARLOTTE: The first one was "Be My Boy"?
ALBETH: "Be My Boy" was originally written and recorded
as "Be My Girl" [by Ray Peterson]. Phil was really the
one who picked it. He chose all of our arrangements and songs. He
was looking for the kind of songs that would enhance the sound he
was creating. We had been used to that three-part harmony sound
- belting - we were big stage performers. So recording with Phil
was a new world for us.
CHARLOTTE: How did you like "I Love How You Love Me"?
ALBETH: Well, how can you say anything bad about a song that all
these years later is still played on the radio. The only thing is,
Sherrell and I were just the "oohs" and "aahs"
in the background. So it was kind of interesting to go on tour with
the song and make as much as possible out of "oo-oo-ooh".
PRISCILLA: Yes - may I answer that, since I was the lead . . .
ALBETH: Well, I can answer whether you were the lead or not.
PRISCILLA: I loved the song because it was a chance for me to sing
in a soft sexy voice, which I had never done before. Phil had his
first hit when he was a teenager with the Teddy Bears' "To
Know Him Is To Love Him". Phil sang on that record, and the
lead singer was a friend of his, who he really cared about at the
time. Phil told her exactly how to sing, and it was that sound,
from "To Know Him Is To Love Him", that he was still attached
to, and was going after with us. But we were an accident. My sound
was not like Annette's - she had a very thin type of little girl
voice. I have a heavy roque - that's a French word meaning very
heavy, husky - voice. I think Phil fell into something he wanted
to do, added extra ingredients, and ended up with something different.
I don't think it was a planned thing. Was it teenage music? Well,
I don't think "I Love How You love Me" was teenage music
at all. I was 15, but nobody knew it. Walter Winchell said it was
the sexiest sound he'd ever heard. I didn't try to sing sexy. I
didn't realise what I was doing. It just turned out to be one of
the sexiest - without being vulgar - records there ever was.
SHERRELL: I think what Priscilla is saying is true. It was not
a teenage song, even though it was on the charts, and we did all
the teen shows on TV like Sh'boom and Dick Clark and American Bandstand
and so on.
CHARLOTTE: Was it Phil's intention to market you as a white rock'n'roll
SHERRELL: I don't think he went into the marketing aspect of it.
He wasn't concerned with our careers. His interest was in creating
a sound - he put all his energies into the recording studio. He
would go on to other groups.
CHARLOTTE: Were you aware of the black girl groups, like the Shirelles
with "Will You Love Me Tomorrow"?
ALBETH: I don't think we were. Our focus was in our performances
and our stage appearances. We didn't concentrate on who was doing
what in the record world.
CHARLOTTE: So you weren't typical girls twiddling the knobs on
ALBETH: Not at all. In fact, I didn't know what groups were on
the charts. I did know who were the great performers on stage. We
were strange. We were taught to be the old Vaudeville-strong stage
act, and we were strong on stage. We never dreamt that we could
get into the charts. We really didn't. When "I Love How You
Love Me" caught on - it caught on like wildfire - everyone
was shocked. I think Phil was shocked and the record company was
shocked. It not only went into the charts, but went on to become
a classic, a standard.
CHARLOTTE: Were you perceived at the time as a rock'n'roll group?
PRISCILLA: We had a lot of problems with that. Before we met Phil
Spector, we had recorded on Decca, and we had that Andrews Sisters
sound. And then we became famous for that soft one-voice sound.
It was very difficult. We had a manager that had several big groups,
but he could not place us. We had the No 3 record in the nation,
but he could not sell us. We were booked into strip joints, and
I was only 15. It was because in that first year as a hit record
group we could not make the change from the big band sound to our
new sound. It was very difficult.
ALBETH: This is interesting. It's like I'm hearing it for the first
time. Priscilla was the youngest, and she remembers so much more
than I do. But that is true, the first year was very difficult,
CHARLOTTE: Priscilla, did Phil Spector really ask you to marry
PRISCILLA: He did. I was pregnant when Phil asked me to marry him,
pregnant with my first one, and I was also married. I had married
to give my son, Eden, a name - in those days you had to. Phil was
heartbroken. After I had my son - I didn't stay married - I did
have a relationship with Phil. I had a very wonderful friendship
with Phil, and I still do.
ALBETH: Phil and Priscilla always had a special rapport and they
really understood each other. There was an empathy and a chemistry
that I certainly never had with Phil. I was always afraid, not afraid
of him, but of his unexpected weird behaviour. I felt he thought
I was very square.
PRISCILLA: He was an absolutely original person. He still is. I
talked to Phil about two weeks ago in Paris. We hadn't talked for
a long time.
SHERRELL: Is he sober now?
PRISCILLA: Yeah, I think he was. He was even asking me about what
I had been through. He sounded pretty good. He's one of those people
that I think suffered a lot. I'm probably one of the few people
in show business today who knew Phil, who worked with him, who still
loves him. OK, he never hurt me. He was a little crazy. So am I
maybe. But I think he was a hypersensitive person who suffered a
lot, and showed this through his behaviour. Everyone thought he
CHARLOTTE: What about your dresses - suddenly you were new stars
- how did they change?
SHERRELL: Well, the empire line was in at the time, if you remember
that style. It came up under the bust line, and gathered. We stayed
with that style for quite some time, because Priscilla was pregnant
and had run off with our light man - the lighting man from the Sheridan
Hotel. Is this the truth? Am I telling it right?
PRISCILLA: No, Sherrell.
SHERRELL: We see things a little differently. But Priscilla was
carrying her son, and the empire line was wonderful. It camouflaged
Priscilla's condition, and we were all able to wear it. I think
she kept singing right up to a week before she had the baby. We
did the Dick Clark show and no one knew she was pregnant.
CHARLOTTE: OK, Priscilla, say your piece.
PRISCILLA: Let me say what I have to say, and we can argue about
it, or whatever, afterwards. I was the youngest, it's true, but
I had been professional since I was 4, and had been working Vegas
between 10 and 13, so I was relatively mature. I fell in love -
it's true, he was our light man - and I got pregnant. Well, was
my mother upset? EVERYBODY was upset! They didn't want me to keep
my son. They wanted to hide the fact that I was pregnant. Of course,
that many years ago, a young girl getting pregnant wasn't accepted
as it is today. I did marry his father, who I loved and adored.
We're not married any longer, but we're still friends. It's true,
the empire line did camouflage my pregnancy, but at the time I wasn't
concerned with that. I was only concerned with having my son, loving
him, teaching him things about my family. My mom and my sisters
were extremely upset about it all, extremely upset. They were concerned
about what was gonna happen to the group. I don't really think that
they realised what was happening to me. I was gonna have a baby,
and they were worried about the group! My father, who never said
very much, said, "Well, you know, let her have this kid. This
is our grandchild. Remember we were all young once." Anyway,
I did have my son, and he's now six-foot-five, and he's wonderful.
CHARLOTTE: After your big hit record, you were now quite big stars,
what happened after that? Did you try and find a new direction for
your stage act?
PRISCILLA: None of our subsequent hits, the one or two that followed,
were as big as "I Love How You Love Me". We never had
that kind of success again. We then got tied up in litigation. There
were contractual arguments going on between Lester Sill and Phil
Spector. We cut an album, which was put in the can. Whether or not
the tapes were lost is another story. All of that is true. This
all began to affect us through the years. We kept on performing
for seven or eight years after the hits. We travelled all over.
ALBETH: In answer to your question, we tried to incorporate our
record sound into our stage act, but it did not really work. You
could do a couple of soft ballads, but a terrific show it did not
make. We were the kind of performers who liked to speak to the audience,
to try to captivate them, to make them laugh, to do funny skits.
The new songs and our old stage show never really married well.
PRISCILLA: They never really did. That's exactly what I was gonna
say. We never gave up one for the other - we should have. We should
have chosen one or the other and stayed with it.
CHARLOTTE: Sherrell, when you were doing these shows, what did
SHERRELL: Do you mean the performances before the hits, or after?
Because our dress changed, it changed drastically. Before the hits,
our mom did a lot of sewing of costumes for us. We wore very bouffant
gowns - lots of sequins and sparkle and lamé.
CHARLOTTE: What about your hair?
SHERRELL: Oh! Now you've touched upon a very sore point! We didn't
wear wigs when we were performing on stage. No, we wore our own
hair. This is my subject, Priscilla, we'll get to you. I have always
had, as you can tell now, very curly hair. Very curly. Naturally
curly. I wore it long - we all had long hair - but at the time it
wasn't in. It was not fashionable. Straight silky hair was in. So
I would iron mine and glue my bangs down to my forehead. In fact,
Priscilla and I came to fisticuffs once in the Philippines. This
might have been just prior to the hit record.
ALBETH: I really don't remember this incident.
SHERRELL: We were performing at the Clark Air Force base in Manila
for the troops. It was very humid, during the summer. The troops
were these young adorable fellows. To me they were the prospect
of the future, our young American Air Force men. And Priscilla would
not share. We were packing up to leave, and she'd packed away her
hair drier. She would not let me use it to straighten my hair. I
had this frizzy hair like Janis Joplin! So I took the whole suitcase
and threw it out of the hotel window.
ALBETH: Being the oldest, I was always the one that attempted to
manage the three of us. We were three sisters and were together
every waking hour. We always dressed alike and we used to wear -
whether we had wigs or our own hair - our hair identically.
PRISCILLA: This is very interesting. It's exactly right. As you
can see, we all have different hair. When we were kids, before we
had our hits, when we were playing Camp Stillman and different shows
and hospitals, it was very important that we all had identical hairstyles.
Albeth and Sherrell's hair was better short, cropped very short.
It curled naturally and was kind of cute. I had very long hair.
I will never forget this particular incident, when my mother absolutely
forced me, and held me kind of down, and cut my hair. She made it
short and frizzed it up to go with the kind of hair my sisters had.
ALBETH: I can hear the hostility. Will you ever forgive her?
PRISCILLA: No, never. I'm still angry. Later on, we wore wigs -
especially after the hits in the '60s. Big bouffant things. We each
wore a long wig that went with our faces.
CHARLOTTE: I have talked to another group, the Bobbettes. Their
situation was the opposite to yours. There they were, these big
girls, and they were being put in little dresses, to look like children.
Is it damaging to a person to be in showbiz very young and to have
to act as a different person to who you really are? What effect
does it have on a group of girls to act younger or older than they
SHERRELL: I think that you could almost answer that question yourself,
Charlotte. You asked it because you perceived something in the three
of us. I would venture to say that it has an ill effect. It effects
how you perceive yourself and what you're gonna be in the future.
It is damaging. It may not damage each member of the group to the
same extent, but somebody gets hurt. It's like living a lie.
CHARLOTTE: Priscilla, was it really natural for you sisters to
be together all the time?
This is a pertinent question. I think what Sherrell said is completely
true for me. I was the youngest, but it's not only whether you look
and act older or younger, it's the fact that you're playing a role
- a role, exactly, that to you has to be real. It's a responsibility
and a tremendous pressure. It's very damaging. It's not being famous
that's damaging, although that has its drawbacks too. I was the
third one to come along - I didn't have a choice, from the age of
two I didn't have a choice. I went to dancing school, to singing
school, to acrobatics lessons. We came home from school and rehearsed
five or six hours an evening - I had absolutely no choice. I can
love my sisters now. I live in Paris, but we get back together again,
we have the same type of humour. But my goodness, we were under
stress. There was so much competition between us, especially Sherrell
and myself - she's just 18-months older than me. It took something
that was very positive, a close loving family bond, and destroyed
CHARLOTTE: Albeth, how did you cope with all this?
ALBETH: As the quarterback of the team - I was often referred to
as that because I was the oldest and I seemed to be the stable one
- I would command the group and give us our, um, orders. When we
broke up, when we finally stopped singing together, I felt a great
sense of relief. I would have gone on into eternity working with
the group. That was what I believed was expected of me. In my mother's
great attempt to give the group a unified look, to make us a unit
that worked as one, she robbed us of our chance to be individuals,
and we each lost our identity. It was hard to explain that to her
in later years, because we really owe all of the opportunities we
had to her. She was terrific, and is terrific, but there was something
very sad about how we were not able to express ourselves about how
we dressed, or even how we spoke. We were together morning, noon
and night. We never had individual friends and went to parties and
concerts together. The only one to stand up was Priscilla. She was
the youngest, and she rebelled.
PRISCILLA: Towards the end, we became individuals on stage. It's
true that I was the catalyst, because I refused to cut my hair short
again, and to wear a style that fitted Sherrell but didn't fit me.
We're all different sizes - Albeth is tiny, I'm medium and Sherrell
is a tall model-type figure - so we couldn't wear the same things.
We weren't like the Lennon Sisters, who all had the same hair, same
noses and same body. We really were individuals. On stage, we developed
the comedy end of our act. Together we were a very funny act - we
had pathos and comedy, and brought the house down. But we were never
an act that fitted into our time, never.
CHARLOTTE: We didn't talk about your financial situation. So many
of the girl groups I've met either made money - people like Diana
Ross - or they made no money at all. Many of them never finished
their education and now don't have proper jobs. What's interesting
about you is that you've all managed to have quite solid careers
after your singing careers. How did you manage that?
SHERRELL: We were lucky enough to have good schooling, and that
helped. Our dad thought it was important. I think what also helped
was the fact that we weren't just an overnight record group that
someone took out of school. We had been on the road and paid our
dues. We really knew, all of us, what work meant. We became record
stars out of the blue, but when it was gone, it was gone. Although
we each went through our neuroses, and our problems - Priscilla
probably the most. When we did break up, and Priscilla said she
was going on her own, I was devastated. But it was the best thing
that ever happened to me. I took five guys, put them in back of
me, toured, made more money, bought property and said, "I can
do it!" I remember appearing on a television show some years
ago and looking at that end of the business. I thought to myself
that when the time came that I couldn't be in the limelight anymore,
I didn't want to become a has-been singing in a nightclub somewhere.
I wanted to be on the other end. Well, I've been with Mark Goodson
Productions for over 15 years now. They make game shows for television.
I'm Bob Barker's right hand lady, his executive assistant, and fashion
co-ordinator for the company, and a writer for the company. So,
I've been blessed with a good career. I don't think I could have
done it if I hadn't learned it from the ground up.
PRISCILLA: That's extremely true and extremely important. I have
to say here that any of the money we made, we did not make off the
record "I Love How You Love Me". We were never paid for
it, which happened to a lot of groups in the '60s. From the time
we were little kids, we worked, we travelled, we supported the family.
We knew discipline. We knew what it meant to spend time practising,
being professional, calling people, calling agents. So we were different
from those groups that had a hit record then found themselves nowhere.
When the group split up, I sang solo for a long time. I made some
jazz albums that sold relatively well. I didn't get paid for those
either! But I had an accident, and my face was paralysed. It was
very serious and I stopped singing. When I stopped singing, I went
through a very bad period where I drank too much and I really went
to the bottom. I have to say that I've been sober for many years
now. I'm an alcoholic - it's nothing I'm ashamed of, but that's
a whole other interview. Anyway, during that time I accidentally
went to Paris, and I fell in love with the place. I decided to stay
there and finish my education. I got my French professorship and
my English professorship. I have my own company now in Paris. I'm
in the right place at the right time, because of the European Community.
Everybody wants to learn English. I have lots of hotels that are
my clients, and I teach them communication. So everything I ever
did that was kind of disjointed has fallen into place. Plus, I love
Well, I think they’ve summed it up very accurately. Our father was
an advocate of being able to articulate your feelings, being able
to communicate. All of the singing lessons, dancing lessons, music
lessons - both Sherrell and Priscilla play guitar and compose. Priscilla's
composed hundreds and hundreds of songs - all of that went into
developing a sense of who we were, and how we could sell ourselves
later in life. When I finally stopped performing - I stopped because
I got pregnant and I wanted to have a quote normal unquote life
- I went out into the world and learned how to be an administrator.
I then worked at ABC TV as a programme executive for nine years.
I'm currently at the Television Academy as the international advertising
co-ordinator for Emmy magazine. It all came about because we had
this tremendous ability to communicate with people, and to study.
That's all very important, and you have to learn it, I think, when