Nothing can prepare the listener for the first time that he hears Shirley and Lee's 1956 recording of "Let the Good Times Roll". Leonard Lee, as usual, sings the majority of the song, but it is Shirley Goodman's voice, with its bizarre mixture of flat and sharp notes, that makes the record so distinctive. It is an oddly seductive sound and even though Lee and Goodman were never a couple in real life, they were called the Sweethearts of the Blues.
Goodman, who was born in New Orleans in 1936, was used to being teased about her piercing voice. Her father would say that it set him on edge, but he encouraged her, and Goodman would go to clubs to see her cousin Ruth Bentley perform.
Her schoolfriend Leonard Lee, wrote his own songs and, when they were 15, Goodman and Lee pestered Cosimo Matassa to be allowed to record at his studio in New Orleans. He offered to make a demonstration record for $2 and they recorded Lee's song "I'm Gone". When Eddie Mesner, the owner of Aladdin Records, heard the tape from the session quite by chance he recognised their potential.
Their first record, a remake of "I'm Gone", reached No 2 on the American rhythm and blues charts. The public was entranced by Goodman's high-pitched voice, and Matassa remarked, "When Shirley sang a solo, you had to feel yourself because you thought you were cut and didn't know where the blood was."
With songs like "Shirley, Come Back to Me", "Shirley's Back", "The Proposal" and "Lee's Goofed", they appeared to the record-buying public to be a couple. In truth, Goodman had married a builder in 1953. Following the happy-go-lucky song "Feel So Good" in 1955, Lee wrote the highly infectious "Let the Good Times Roll". "I wrote just about every song I recorded with Leonard, but I'm not credited," Goodman told the writer Bill Millar in 1975,
We'd write about things that happened. A drunk came up to the stage and said, "Hey baby, come over here." I was trying to get rid of him and he shouted, "Come on, baby, let the good times roll."
"Let the Good Times Roll" topped the US rhythm and blues charts and was also a pop hit.
Although the public tired of Shirley and Lee, they continued to record until 1963. Goodman settled in California and sang background vocals for Sonny and Cher and Jackie deShannon. From time to time, she resurrected the boy/girl duo with different partners, as Shirley and Jesse, Shirley and Alfred and Shirley and Shep. She sang backing vocals on the first four albums by Dr John and she and Dr John are both featured on the Rolling Stones' sessions for Exile On Main Street (1972).
In 1972 Shirley and Lee were reunited for an oldies bonanza at Madison Square Garden. It was the last time they worked together, as Lee died in 1976.
Sylvia Robinson, from another Fifties duo, Mickey and Sylvia, invited Goodman to add her voice to "Shame Shame Shame" in 1974 and this became an international disco hit for the so-called Shirley and Co. This time the male voice supporting Goodman was Jesus Alvarez, and Goodman liked to say, "I was helped by Jesus."
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