"Girl groups" have been with us since the 1930s, when the Boswell Sisters and the Andrews Sisters stormed the charts. "Girl groups" with soul started to come on strong in the first half of the 1960s, with the success of the Shirelles (shown here), the Marvelettes, Patti LaBelle and Her Blue Belles, the Crystals, the Chiffons, Martha & the Vandellas and, most spectacularly, the Supremes.
"Girl groups" (the term is dated, but let's just go with it, OK?) have been training ground for such top stars as Diana Ross, Patti LaBelle and Beyonce.
Three leading soul girl groups are sister acts: the Pointer Sisters, The Emotions and Sister Sledge. Two others, Xscape and 702, each included a pair of sisters.
Twenty girl groups rank among the top 500 R&B hit-makers in chart history in chart researcher Joel Whitburn's indispensable book Hot R&B Songs 1942-2010. Here's a complete list of them. At the end of each entry, I tell you where that act ranks among the top 500.
1. The Supremes. The trio from Detroit amassed 24 top 10 R&B hits, from 1964's "When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" to 1972's "Floy Joy." Diana Ross was featured on the first 19 top 10 hits (through 1969's "Someday We'll Be Together"). The tally includes a pair of collabos with the Temptations and one with the Four Tops. Eight of these hits topped the R&B chart. Ross has landed 18 additional top 10 R&B hits on her own. She won a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in February. Top 500 ranking: #35.
2. Pointer Sisters. The sister quartet-turned-trio from Oakland, Calif. had six top 10 R&B hits, from 1975's "How Long (Betcha' Got A Chick On The Side)" to 1985's "Dare Me." Anita and Bonnie Pointer co-wrote "How Long," which was a #1 R&B hit. Bonnie went solo in 1978 and landed a top 10 R&B hit with "Free Me From My Freedom/Tie Me To A Tree (Handcuff Me)." The act continued as a trio. Top 500 ranking: #122.
3. Martha & the Vandellas. The trio from Detroit had 10 top 10 R&B hits, from 1963's "Come And Get These Memories" to 1968's "Honey Chile." The trio topped the R&B chart with 1963's "Heat Wave" and 1967's "Jimmy Mack." The act's signature hit was 1964's "Dancing In The Street," which was co-written by Marvin Gaye. The Vandellas had sung background vocals on Gaye's first three hits: "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow," "Hitch Hike" and "Pride And Joy." Top 500 ranking: #132.
4. TLC. The trio from Atlanta had nine top R&B 10 hits, from 1992's "Ain't 2 Proud 2 Beg" to 1999's "Unpretty." The tally includes three #1 R&B hits: "Baby-Baby-Baby," "Creep" and "No Scrubs." Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes co-wrote four of the trio's top 10 hits. Another member, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins, co-wrote one, "Unpretty." Top 500 ranking: #138.
5. Destiny's Child. The quartet-turned-trio from Houston amassed 11 top 10 R&B hits, from 1998's "No, No, No Part 2" (featuring Wyclef Jean) to 2005's "Cater 2 U." Four of the songs reached #1. Beyonce had a co-writing credit on 10 of the 11 top 10 hits, more than any other member. Beyonce has since amassed 18 top 10 R&B hits on her own. Kelly Rowland has had four. LeToya Luckett, who left the group in early 2000, has had two. Top 500 ranking: #143.
6. The Marvelettes. The group from Inkster, Mich. had 11 top 10 R&B hits, from 1961's "Please Mr. Postman" to 1968's "My Baby Must Be A Magician." "Please Mr. Postman" hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Top 500 ranking: #147.
7. The Emotions. The sister act from Chicago had five top 10 R&B hits, from 1969's "So I Can Love You" to 1979's "Boogie Wonderland," an Earth, Wind & Fire hit on which it was featured. The 1977 smash "Best Of My Love" hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Member Sheila Hutchinson wrote "So I Can Love You." Top 500 ranking: #155.
8. En Vogue. The quartet from Oakland, Calif., had nine top 10 R&B hits, from 1990's "Hold On" to 1997's "Whatever." The tally includes Salt 'N' Pepa's 1994 hit, "Whatta Man," on which it was featured. That recording marked a rare instance of two "girl groups" coming together on a major hit. Six of En Vogue's songs topped the R&B chart. The quartet co-wrote its first two hits, "Hold On" and "Lies." Top 500 ranking: #166.
9. SWV (Sisters With Voices). The trio from Brooklyn had nine top 10 R&B hits, from 1993's "I'm So Into You" to 1998's "Rain." The trio's 1993 hit "Weak" hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. SWV had two other #1 R&B hits. Group members Cheryl Gamble and Tamara Johnson co-wrote one of them, "You're The One." Top 500 ranking: #194.
10. Salt-N-Pepa. The hip-hop trio from Queens, N.Y. had five top 10 R&B hits, from 1988's "Shake Your Thang" (featuring E.U.) to 1994's "Whatta Man" (with En Vogue). The tally includes Pebbles' 1991 hit "Backyard," on which it was featured. Cheryl James ("Salt") co-wrote three of these songs. Sandra Denton ("Pepa") co-wrote one. In addition, "Salt" was featured on God's Property's 1997 hit "Stomp." That song, a #1 R&B hit, also featured Kirk Franklin. Top 500 ranking: #229.
11. Xscape. The quartet from Atlanta had 10 top 10 R&B hits, from 1993's "Just Kickin' It" to 2000's "Bounce With Me," a Lil Bow Wow hit on which it was featured. The tally includes two other songs on which it was featured: MC Lyte's "Keep On, Keepin' On" and Ol Skool's "Am I Dreaming." Group member LaToscha Scott co-wrote the 1997 hit "My Little Secret." Top 500 ranking: #249.
12. The Shirelles. The legendary quartet from Passaic, N.J. had eight top 10 R&B hits, from 1961's "Will You Love Me Tomorrow" to 1964's "Tonight You're Gonna Fall In Love With Me." Top 500 ranking: #250.
13. Sister Sledge. The sister quartet from Philadelphia had four top 10 R&B hits, from 1979's "He's The Greatest Dancer" to 1981's "All American Girls." "He's The Greatest Dancer" and the anthemic "We Are Family" both reached #1. Joni Sledge co-wrote "All American Girls." The act also included Debra, Kim and Kathy Sledge. Top 500 ranking: #283.
14. Brenda & the Tabulations. The group from Philadelphia was a mixed-gender group until 1970, when it became a female trio. It had two top 10 hits: 1967's "Dry Your Eyes" and 1971's sublime "Right On The Tip Of My Tongue." Lead singer Brenda Payton co-wrote "Dry Your Eyes." Top 500 ranking: #358.
15. Total. The trio from Harlem had seven top 10 R&B hits, from 1995's "Can't You See" (featuring The Notorious B.I.G.) to 1999's "Sitting Home." The tally includes Mase's 1998 hit "What You Want," on which it was featured. Top 500 ranking: #369.
16. The Three Degrees. The trio from Philadelphia had four top 10 R&B hits, from 1970's "Maybe" to 1974's "When Will I See You Again." The tally includes MFSB's 1974 instrumental hit "TSOP (The Sound Of Philadelphia)," to which it contributed vocal shading. That song, best known as the Soul Train theme song, hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Top 500 ranking: #376.
17. Klymaxx. The six-woman band from Los Angeles had four top 10 R&B hits, from 1985's "The Men All Pause" to 1990's "Good Love." Members Bernadette Cooper and Joyce Irby co-wrote "The Men All Pause." Irby also co-wrote the band's 1987 hit "I'd Still Say Yes." Top 500 ranking: #412.
18. The Honey Cone. The trio from Los Angeles had five top 10 R&B hits, from 1969's "Girls it Ain't Easy" to 1972's "The Day I Found Myself." The trio's 1971 smash "Want Ads" hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. The follow-up, "Stick-Up," hit #1 R&B. Top 500 ranking: #436.
19. LaBelle. The quartet-turned-trio from Philadelphia had two top 10 R&B hits: 1975's "Lady Marmalade" and its follow-up, "What Can I Do For You?" "Lady Marmalade" hit #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. Lead singer Patti LaBelle has amassed 13 additional top 10 R&B hits on her own. Another member, Nona Hendryx, hit the top 10 in 1987 with "Why Should I Cry?." Top 500 ranking: #476.
20. Jade. The trio had two top 10 R&B hits: 1992's "I Wanna Love You" and 1993's "Don't Walk Away." Top 500 ranking: #480.
I left out two duos, Zhane and Changing Faces, on the grounds that a girl group really needs to have at least three members. Zhane, which has had five top 10 R&B hits, ranks #419 on the top 500 list. Changing Faces, which has had three top 10 R&B hits, ranks #427.
The Fine Print: Whitburn's list of the top 500 R&B artists combines hits by the group LaBelle with Patti LaBelle's solo hits. As a result, Patti LaBelle ranks #37 on the list. I asked Whitburn's ace researcher Paul Haney to break it down for us. Haney reports that, strictly on its own, the group LaBelle would rank #476, as shown above, and that without the group's points, Patti LaBelle would rank #58.
If you enjoyed this report, you may be interested in two of Whitburn's books: Hot R&B Songs 1942-2010 and Top 10 R&B Hits 1942-2010. Whitburn's website is www.recordresearch.com.