From about the mid-1950s through to 1970, as the rock ’n’ roll era dawned and became the predominant musical force, girl groups reigned supreme[s]. For every British invader of the 1960s, there was at least one autochthonous all-female American singing group. The Chordettes, the McGuire Sisters, the Cookies, the Shirelles, the Supremes and more were packing in hits written by the likes of Carole King, Gerry Goffin, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller.
Their influence upon the musical landscape, shaping the birth of the pop genre and informing the development of rock ’n’ roll, can still be felt in today’s music, even if their harmonies and styles have faded slightly.
Thanks to the Sun Valley Opera, residents of and visitors to the area will have the opportunity to revisit, relive and celebrate the legacy of America’s great girl groups next Wednesday, July 17, at the Sun Valley Pavilion.
Broadway singers Allison Semmes, Tiffany Evariste and Ashley Blanchet are set to take the Pavilion on a journey back to the roots of pop and rock with their program “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” a tribute to girl groups.
With hit tracks by the Shirelles, the Supremes, the Pointer Sisters and more, the two-act, 21-song program spans over four decades of musical history, from the 1940s on into the 1980s. Costumes, choreography, a narrative through-line and a full accompanying band will help bring this homage to life in authentic detail.
The four-piece band, headed by Sun Valley favorite Sean Rogers, is the same group that provided accompaniment for the opera’s presentation of the Temptations tribute last year. Mike Evariste, the mastermind producer behind that wildly successful event, is back at the helm for “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
Together, this focused but talented ensemble will breathe new life into these classics and revere the influential musicians who made them hits.
“I’m really excited to be paying homage to them,” Semmes said. “Their sound is part of the birth of rock ’n’ roll.”
Tiffany Evariste further elaborated on that point, saying these groups and their music had a “huge influence on so much music we hear today—in pop, in musicals, in rock—so many of the harmonies and the ways the songs are put together bled into the songs we hear on Broadway or on the radio.”
“All these songs have stood the test of time,” Blanchet said. “We’re talking 70 years for some of these, but they’re songs everyone still knows.”
All three singers pointed to one particular element to explain how these songs achieved their timelessness: their humanity.
Far from classically trained, the women who formed these groups simply started singing together because they loved it, because they felt something in the music.
“Their voices are so raw,” Evariste said. “It’s not the polished sound we often associate with female singers. They’re presenting themselves as real women. They do music that we happen to associate with one time and one look, but it was real life for them. That’s their legacy.”
Blanchet also spoke at length about the unpolished, but very real and very relatable quality of their singing voices: “They helped signal a new era where singers just sounded like normal people. It’s a fresh new sound that’s sexy, has a groove to it and gets people dancing, and it’s colloquial.”
She credits the girl groups of the ’60s for helping to dispel pretention and magniloquence from singing.
“This is high-quality, great music, but not in a way that only rich people who go to the opera can relate to,” she said. “It’s simple, with hummable melodies and relatable themes, written so that anybody listening in the car can sing along.”
Not only is the music written for accessibility and memorability, but the lyrics capture universal emotions as well—such tracks as “One Fine Day,” “Sincerely,” “May You Always” and the titular Carole King track.
“The first thing I’ve noticed in all of the songs is the stories that are told,” Semmes said. “They capture all the different colors and emotions of love. They’re not just simple ‘I’m in love’ songs.”
For all the authentic human sentiments captured within their lyrics, these songs are still defined by their sumptuous harmonies and infectiously catchy rhythms. Of course, some are just plain unadulterated fun. They’re singing “It’s Raining Men,” after all.
Though all three are experienced Broadway performers who have appeared in shows using some of this music—Evariste and Semmes were both in “Motown” and Blanchet in “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical”—they, too, have learned a great deal in rehearsal, as much of the program highlights some lesser-known artists, like the Exciters and the Dixie Cups.
While the songs were familiar, the artists remained obscure, which touches upon the heart of the concert.
“The goal is not only to pay homage to the groups as musicians, but as women,” Evariste said.
With a certain degree of narrative organization, some scripted acting elements and an overall progression through time, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” will paint a vivid picture of who these women were, how they helped shape the artistic landscape of popular music and how their legacy remains prevalent today.
The concert kicks off at 8 p.m. at the Sun Valley Pavilion on Wednesday, July 17. Tickets range from $39-$79 and can be purchased online at sunvalleyopera.com.
On July 16, the night prior to the concert, the same three performers will appear in one of the Sun Valley Opera’s signature Diva Parties. Attendees will enjoy cocktails, a private performance and premier seating for the concert at the Pavilion. This event will take place on the lawn of a private home, and tickets are available for $200. Visit sunvalleyopera.com for details.
Otherwise, crank up the Supremes and the Shirelles, and get ready for an unforgettable run down music’s memory lane.