Shirley Ellis

shirley ellisShirley Ellis (1929-2005) was a vocalist and composer from the Bronx.

She’s sometimes described as a novelty singer, though she was so much more than that. Her songs have stood the test of time, sounding just as fresh today as they did in the ’60s.

Here’s three of her best-loved singles, offering a brief overview of her career.

1) The Nitty Gritty.

Shirley started her career writing for other people, as well as singing in a group called the Metronomes. In 1959 she began working with a songwriter named Lincoln Chase. He’d also been penning hits for other acts right through the ’50s, though had failed to make it as an artist in his own right.

It took a few years for their partnership to bear fruits, but it was worth the wait. The Nitty Gritty was the first single they co-wrote and released, an exciting burst of soul that was a big hit in 1963.

2) The Name Game


Shirley got the lyrics for this song from a game she used to play as a child.

The video above shows what a confident performer she was, coming across the as the world’s coolest teacher, or maybe a soul-tastic Mary Poppins.

The Name Game was a return to form after a couple of so-so singles, and was a massive hit in 1964.

3) The Clapping Song

ellis_shirley_clapping_song_lpKnowing a winning formula when she smelt it, Shirley once again turned to childhood for lyrical inspiration, basing this song on a clapping game she used to play.

The section about rubber dollys etc is taken from an old song by The Light Crust Doughboys, a male vocal group from the ’30s. The song Little Rubber Dolly is probably not worth seeking out unless you’re a fan of shreaking violins and warbly old-time vocals (I’m sure there are some of you out there).

The Clapping Song was later covered by The Belle Stars in 1982. Again, probably not worth seeking out.

Shirley retired a few years later in 1968, having barely bothered the charts with some other, less succesful singles. But who cares? The Name Game and The Clapping Song are two of the catchiest, smiliest,  most sing-along-defying-but-sing-along-inducing singles of the ’60s.

Come on!

Shirley Shirley Bo-Birley…

Banana Fanna Fo Firley…



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