Elliot, "Mama" Cass

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ELLIOT, "MAMA" CASS (Ellen Naomi Cohen ; 1941–1974), U.S. folk singer, member of the rock group The Mamas and the Papas. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, to a middle-class Jewish family, Elliot was given the nickname Cass by her father. She changed her last name from Cohen to Elliot when she went to New York to try to make it as a Broadway actress in the early 1960s. Elliot joined a rock group, The Big Three, a short-lived band called the Mugwumps, and then the folk-rock band, the New Journeymen, which became The Mamas and the Papas in 1965. In December of that year the group's first album, If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears, was issued, containing the single, "California Dreamin'," which reached No. 4 on the music charts in March 1966, followed by "Monday, Monday," which in May reached No. 1 and later won a Grammy Award. Other hits included "Words of Love," "Dedicated To the One I Love," "Go Where You Wanna Go," "I Saw Her Again," and "Dream a Little Dream of Me," which became her theme song.

The Mamas and the Papas were arguably the first music act to combine both hippie and pop sensibilities, enabling Middle America to see the "safe" side of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture of the 1960s. Elliot, who had the most outgoing and appealing personality in the group, and who wore big yellow and orange flower and sun images in appliqué on a long white dress, became the poster girl for the "Age of Aquarius."

In June 1967, the group played at the prominent Monterey Pop Festival, but tensions within the band led to a break-up a year later. Eliot went solo, and had some hits with songs such as "It's Getting Better," "Make Your Own Kind of Music," and "New World Coming." In 1969 Eliot began appearing on tv variety shows doing comedy sketches and performing songs, with much success.

Eliot had health problems brought on by her obesity – she stood 5ʹ5ʹʹ and weighed 238 lbs. – and on July 28, 1974, she died in London of a heart attack. It was initially misreported that her death was caused by choking on a ham sandwich, but despite the autopsy report by a pathologist and a London coroner a week later, the "ham sandwich" story became an urban legend.

Elliot and her fellow band mates from The Mamas and the Papas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

[Elli Wohlgelernter (2nd ed.)]