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The Mamas and the Papas

album cover of The Mamas and The Papas
Michelle Phillips, born 1944, is the last surviving member of The Mamas & The Papas.

The Mamas & The Papas were a California based vocal group from the 1960s who had huge, yet brief success. John Phillips, born in 1935, was the founder and leader of The Mamas & The Papas. Phillips was headed for the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis MD, but changed his plans after being influenced by popular 50's musicians, Elvis Presley, the Platters and Teresa Brewer. Phillips' first music endeavours included pop music, followed by jazz, then finally settling in with folk. He formed a group called the New Journeymen, with a young model and singer named Michelle Gilliam. The two later married, and began writing songs together while the New Journeymen quickly died.

Meanwhile a baltimore-born singer named Cassandra Elliot, was making her way into folk music joining a band called the Smoothies, which never went anywhere. Eventually she joined a group called the Mugwumps with future band member of The Mamas & The Papas, Denny Doherty. Elliott and Doherty made for an amazing pair of voices when put together. Phillips recruited Doherty to sing some songs with the New Journeymen in Washington in 1964.

Doherty brought his new band members to see Elliott perform. Phillips never wanted her in the group because he was convinced they would never succeed in the music industry because of her size. Her beautiful voice and ability to hit all the right notes eventually got her a place in the band.

The band's original name was, The Magic Cyrcle, but they found it just didn't fit. One night the Hells Angels were on a talk show, and they referred to their woman as "our mamas". Elliott stood up and said, "Yeah! I want to be a Mama!" Michelle Phillips jumped up and agreed, the two danced around chanting "We're the Mamas!" After a few minutes John Phillips and Doherty looked at each other and shrugged. "The Papas?" and the name was born.

California Dreamin' was released in 1965 and quickly made its way to the top. The band's debut album, If you Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears was released in early 1966 and became the band's only number 1 album on the Billboard 200. The third and final single from their debut was Monday Monday, which became the band's only US number 1 hit and brought the band international success.

After it was discovered that Michelle Phillips and Doherty were having an affair, tension in the band was too much for them to handle. They consulted their attorney, and label Dunhill Records and the band drafted a formal statement expelling Michelle from the group in June 1966. It was bad timing as the band was in the middle of recording their second album,The Mamas & The Papas. They hired a new singer named Jill Gibson who sang with the band until august of 1966. Michelle was asked to rejoin the group by the end of August was back in the studio.

In 1967 at a party in England, Elliott was talking to Mick Jagger at a party, when John Phillips made a rude remark about her in front of all the guests. She stormed out of the party and quit the group. Turns out she was contractually bound for the band's next LP and appeared on the fourth album. The band struggled to produce chart topping songs for the next little while until they released Dream a Little Dream of Me. Soon after that, the band split, got back together, made one more album before they all went their separate ways.

After the final breakup, Cass Elliot had a successful solo career, touring the U.S. and Europe, becoming popular with hits such as Make Your Own Kind of Music and It's Getting Better. In 1974 Elliott died of a heart attack in London. After Elliott's death a rumor circulated for years that she had choked to death on a ham sandwich, when police noted there was a partially eaten sandwich in her room when her body was found. A post-mortem examination concluded there was no food lodged in her windpipe.

John Phillips continued to write songs for solo performers and is best known outside of The Mamas & The Papas for co-writing the Beach Boys' number one hit Kokomo. In 1991, Phillips began to show signs of liver failure and became very ill. Throughout the rest of his life, Phillips toured with various groups playing small venues, until he died of heart failure on March 18, 2001 at the age of 65. He is interred at the Forest Lawn Cemetery near Palm Springs California.

Denny Doherty released a few singles after the breakup of The Mamas and The Papas, however none were a success. He also went on to host a popular variety show in Canada and produce a children's show called Theodore Tugboat.

Doherty died on January 19, 2007, at his home in Mississauga, Ontario, from kidney failure following surgery on an abdominal aneurysm.

Michelle Phillips went on to a successful acting career, appearing in movies including, Dillinger, Bloodline, American Anthem and Let it Ride. She also had a successful run in television drama, including Hotel, Knots Landing and Beverly Hills 90210.

As the last surviving original member of The Mamas and The Papas, and the copyright owner for the song California Dreamin', Michelle was a major contributor to the 2005 PBS Television Special California Dreamin': The Songs of The Mamas and the Papas.

Read more:

The Mamas & the Papas | AllMusic

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