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The Mamas & the Papas Biography

Last updated: 10/29/2013 08:32:33 AM

John Phillips (b. 1935), Michelle Phillips (b. 1944), Dennis Doherty a.k.a Denny (b. 1941), and Ellen Naomi Cohen a.k.a Cass Elliot (b. 1941-d. 1974)

The Mamas and the Papas burst onto the American pop charts in early 1966 with a 'Flower Power' anthem, "California Dreamin". But by 1968, after a number one album and single and countless top ten hits, it was all over. Here's a brief biography on them.

It all started in 1961 when John Phillips, who was in a folk band called The Journeymen, met Michelle Gilliam, an aspiring model. They soon fell in love. While the Journeymen were on tour, John met a rich tenor named Denny Doherty. Later, Doherty would leave his group "The Halifax Three", and hook up with Cass Elliot. The two of them became life-long friends. Meanwhile, John divorced his wife, and he and Michelle moved to New York City, where EVERYONE in the folk scene hung out. They joined up with Denny and Marshall Brickman and formed "The New Joureymen".

In 1964, Denny introduced them to Cass. In 1965, John, Michelle and Denny, in true "hippie" form, decided to leave New York for awhile and went to St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. Cass, who wanted to be "more than friends" with Denny soon followed. In St. Thomas, they lounged around on the sand, smoked pot, swam, and perfected their harmonies while John worked on some songs. Cass wasn't yet a part of the group because John didn't know if she could sing high enough.

After months of this, Cass left for California. John, Michelle and Denny had no money left on John's American Express card and went back to New York, only to find that all of their friends had left and went to California, and in the summer of '65, they left too. In L.A, they hooked up with a friend of Cass's named Barry McGuire, who had a #1 song "Eve of Destruction". He introduced them to his producer, Lou Adler...and the rest is music history.

Success came fast for them. Their first single "California Dreamin" broke in the top 10 in early 1966. Many top 10 hits soon followed. The group's popularity was at a peak, however their personal lives threatened to ruin all of their success. Michelle and Denny had a short affair which hurt all four members. Things got so bad, John fired Michelle in the summer of '66 and she was replaced by Jill Gibson (a lookalike who was dating Lou Adler). But the public didn't want a substitute mama, and Michelle was brought back and her and John's relationship was repaired. 1967 started off with the single "Words of Love", another top 10 single, followed by "Dedicated to the One I Love", featuring Michelle.

The Summer of Love really began with the "Monterey Pop Festival", which was organized by the fifth Mama, Lou Adler, John and Michelle. John wrote the Summer of Love anthem for Scott McKenzie, "San Fransisco". The downhill for the Mamas and the Papas began in the fall when their single "Glad to Be Unhappy" didn't make the top 20. They took some time off, but it was apparent that it was really over for good.

After the Mamas and the Papas, Cass had a somewhat successful solo career before she died in London in 1974. Denny disapeared from sight, Michelle took to caring for her and John's only child, Chynna, and John spent most of the 1970s under the influence of one drug or another.

The Mamas and the Papas were the first band to utilize folk, rock, jazz, pop, and beautiful harmonies. They were music icons and the "spokespeople" for the counter culture. To top it all off, they were inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. Their music continues to be loved and appreciated by all generations.