The timeless allure of Mary Weiss, the iconic leader of the Sixties New York sensation, The Shangri-Las, has dimmed as she passed away at the age of 75. This somber news was confirmed by Miriam Linna of Norton Records label, the same label that released Mary’s solo masterpiece, “Dangerous Game,” back in 2007. Mary Weiss was more than just a singer; she was an emblem, a beacon of inspiration, resonating with generations of both young men and women.
In heartfelt remembrance, Ronnie Spector, the co-founder of the legendary girl group, The Ronettes, and herself an icon of that era, paid tribute to Mary Weiss. Their kindred spirits, two fearless women of the ’60s, are forever intertwined. In an Instagram post, accompanied by a poignant black-and-white photograph of Weiss, Ronnie’s caption read, “We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Mary Weiss’ passing. Join us as we spin the Shangri-Las in her honor.”
The legacy of Mary Weiss and The Shangri-Las transcends time, their music an enduring testament to the era’s youthful passions and romantic escapades. Growing up in the vibrant borough of Queens, Mary Weiss and her sister Elizabeth, fondly known as “Betty,” joined forces with twins Marguerite “Marge” Ganser and Mary Ann Ganser to create the indomitable quartet. Together, they captivated local talent shows and eventually caught the attention of producer George “Shadow” Morton in 1964. It was a moment that would forever change their destinies.
The Shangri-Las crafted an indelible mark on the early-Sixties musical landscape, perfectly encapsulating the era’s penchant for teen tragedies. Their melodramatic anthems, including “Give Him a Great Big Kiss” and the unforgettable 1964 hit “Leader of the Pack,” soared to the top of the charts, claiming the Number One spot that year. In 2021, “Leader of the Pack” solidified its place in history, securing the 316th spot in Rolling Stone’s prestigious list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Mary Weiss, ever the trailblazer, fondly recalled stories from her past in an intimate 2007 interview with Rolling Stone. She recounted a memorable encounter with James Brown, who had booked her for a Texas show. “When I walked out onstage, I thought he was going to have a coronary,” she laughed, reflecting on the surprise that her voice, so powerful and emotive, had defied racial expectations. The interview also delved into the legal issues that led to The Shangri-Las’ eventual disbandment in 1968. As Mary put it, “When we started, it was all about music; by the time it ended, it was all about litigation.” Legal complications tied her hands for a decade, as she candidly shared, “My mom signed some really bad contracts.”
However, Mary’s story took an unexpected turn. After the group’s dissolution, she ventured to San Francisco but eventually returned to her roots in New York, finding her place at an architecture firm, where she worked on commercial interiors. The year 2007 marked her triumphant return, sparked by a serendipitous encounter with Billy Miller, the head of the Brooklyn indie label Norton. This fateful meeting rekindled Mary’s passion for music and paved the way for her final solo album. “Initially, I didn’t know how I’d feel about recording again,” Mary Weiss admitted. “But when I walked back into the studio, I felt like I was home.”
Mary Weiss may have left us, but her indomitable spirit and the timeless melodies of The Shangri-Las will forever echo in our hearts. The era of teenage dreams and fervent romance lives on through her music, reminding us of a bygone era that continues to inspire generations.