Mamas and the Papas, The

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Mamas and the Papas, The

Mamas and the Papas, The, folk-rock harmonizing hit makers of the 1960s. membership:John Phillips, gtr., bar. voc. (b. Parris Island, S.C., Aug. 30, 1935); Denny Doherty, ten. voc. (b. Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, Nov. 29, 1941); Cass Elliot (real name, Ellen Cohen), contralto voc. (b. Baltimore, Md., Sept. 19,1941; d. July 29, 1974, London, England); Michelle Phillips (real name, Gilliam), sop. voc.(b. Long Beach, Calif., June 4, 1944).

John Phillips began performing in Greenwich Village folk clubs during the late 1950s with groups such as the Smoothies, which included Scott McKenzie. In 1961, Phillips, McKenzie, and Dick Weissman formed the folk trio the Journeymen, debuting at Gerde’s Folk City that spring and ultimately recording three albums for Capitol Records. In 1962 Phillips met aspiring teenage model Michelle Gilliam in San Francisco, and the couple soon married.

Canadian Denny Doherty was a member of the folk group the Halifax Three and recorded two albums for Epic. Cass Elliot, her first husband James Hendricks, and Tim Rose formed the Big Three in N.Y. around 1963, recording two albums for FM Records. By the summer of 1964, the Mugwumps had assembled, with Elliot, Hendricks, Doherty, and future Lovin’ Spoonful member Zalman Yanovsky. The Mugwumps recorded a single album that was eventually released in 1967. With the dissolution of the Mugwumps, Denny Doherty joined John and Michelle Phillips as the New Journeymen in the Virgin Islands. Subsequently joined by Cass Elliot, the four worked on perfecting their vocal harmonies (Michelle had been singing only briefly) for five months during 1965 before moving to Los Angeles. There, Barry McGuire put them in touch with producer Lou Adler, who signed the group as The Mamas and the Papas to his newly formed Dunhill label.

The Mamas and the Papas recorded their debut album with studio musicians Larry Knechtel (keyboards), Joe Osborn (bass), and Hal Blaine (drums), with Adler providing slick pop-style production. The album If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears quickly yielded smash hits with John and Michelle’s “California Dreamin’” and John’s “Monday, Monday,” and Lennon and McCartney’s “I Call Your Name.” The Mamas and The Papas produced smash hits with John and Denny’s “I Saw Her Again” John’s “Words of Love,” and John and Michelle’s “Trip Stumble and Fall.” Deliver provided the hits “Dedicated to the One I Love” (a 1961 smash for the Shirelles) and John and Michelle’s group autobiography “Creeque Alley,” and the major hit “Look Through My Window.”

In 1967, John Phillips and Lou Adler organized the Monterey International Pop Festival. Coinciding with the smash success of Phillips’ insipid “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair),” as recorded by former associate Scott McKenzie, the festival launched the careers of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, and Janis Joplin. The original quartet performed live for the last time to close the festival on June 18,1967. The Papas and the Mamas produced a major hit with “Twelve Thirty” and the minor hit “Safe in My Garden.” “Glad to Be Unhappy” became the group’s last major hit, and by mid-1968, The Mamas and the Papas had broken up. The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Cass Elliot’s debut solo album for Dunhill yielded the major hit “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and she later scored moderate hits with “It’s Getting Better” and “Make Your Own Kind of Music” in 1969. Pursuing a career as a nightclub and television entertainer, she later recorded an ill-received but underrated album with Dave Mason, who was coming off the huge success of his debut solo album, Alone Together. John Phillips managed a moderate hit with “Mississippi” in the summer of 1970 (the year he and Michelle divorced). The Mamas and the Papas reunited briefly in 1971 for a single album on Dunhill. After successfully completing a two-week engagement at the Palladium Theater in London, Cass Elliot died of a heart attack on July 29, 1974, at age 32.

In the meantime, John Phillips composed the music for the flop Broadway musical Man on the Moon, produced by Andy Warhol. Michelle Phillips launched a career as an actress with 1973’s Dillinger and later recorded a solo album for A&M Records. Years later, she was a featured player in CBS-TV’s nighttime soap opera Knots Landing. John Phillips, mired in drug addiction during the latter part of the 1970s, was arrested on serious drug charges in N.Y. in July 1980; he was fined and sentenced to 30 days in jail in April 1981. In March 1982, he re-formed The Mamas and the Papas as a lounge act with Denny Doherty, daughter Mackenzie Phillips (b. Nov. 10,1959), and Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane. Mackenzie was best known for her role in the CBS-TV situation comedy One Day at a Time (1975–1983), while McFarlane was the former lead vocalist for Spanky and Our Gang, who had major hits with “Sunday Will Never Be the Same,” “Lazy Day,” and “Like to Get to Know You” in 1967 and 1968. Scott McKenzie replaced Denny Doherty in 1987 and Mackenzie Phillips continued to tour with the group until 1992.


J. Phillips, with J. Jerome, Papa John: An Autobiography (N.Y, 1986); M. Phillips, California Dreamin’: The True Story of The M. and the P.(N.Y., 1986).


the mamas and the papas:If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears (1966); The Mamas and the Papas (1966); Monterey International Pop Festival (1971); The Papas and the Mamas (1968); People Like Us (1971). the journeymen:The Journeymen(1961); Coming Attractions—Live!(1962); New Directions in Folk Music (1963). the halifax three:The Halifax Three:(1963); San Francisco Bay Blues (1963). the big three:The Big Three (1963); Live at the Recording Studio (1964). the mugwumps:The Mugwumps(1967). cass elliot:Dream a Little Dream (1968); Bubblegum, Lemonade, and Something for Mama (1969); Make Your Own Kind of Music (1969); Cass Elliot(1972); The Road Is No Place for a Lady (1972); Don’t Call Me Mama Anymore(1973). cass elliot and dave mason:Dave Mason and Cass Elliot(1971). john phillips:John Phillips(1970). denny doherty:Watcha Gonna Do(1971); Waiting for a Sign(1974). michelle phillips:Victim of Romance (1977).

—Brock Helander