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Cass Elliot

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Born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19th, 1941, Cass Elliot developed an impeccable intuition for great music. Finding her way through the 60’s folk-rock scene, Cass would go on to become one of the defining voices of the counterculture movement, and later, a beloved fixture on American television. People who knew her describe the gravity that she generated around herself, a force of self-determination, humor, and charisma that carried her throughout her career in show business. A natural-born matchmaker, Cass was at least partially responsible for the unions of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and The Lovin’ Spoonful. Cass’s first love was the theater. However, in 1962, she traded show tunes for folk songs, where she found her place as the bold female harmony in the folk group The Big 3. Her enduring creativity followed her across her subsequent career with The Mugwumps, when at the height of Beatlemania, their record label wanted to cut her out of the group. Instead of dumping her, the group decided to disband rather than leave their cornerstone vocalist behind. By 1965, Cass had honed her chops when she banded up with her friend and former bandmate from The Mugwumps, Denny Doherty, who had by then partnered up with John and Michelle Phillips of The New Journeymen. Once Cass had joined, they renamed themselves The Mamas & The Papas. The Mamas & The Papas were flung into the spotlight, receiving rapid commercial success following the release of “California Dreamin’”, their first single, in late 1965. The song ended up #1 on the Cash Box year end hot 100 and  #10 on the Billboard year-end Hot 100 single of 1966. Other top ten hits included the Grammy® winning “Monday, Monday”, “Creeque Alley”, and “Dedicated to the One I Love”. Their first concert was held at the Hollywood Bowl, and the band went on to close the Monterey International Pop festival in 1967, alongside acts such as Jefferson Airplane, The Who, Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix. Behind the group’s sun-soaked & dreamy personae, internal contentions were brewing. Cass often faced scrutiny and ridicule for her weight, and there was no denying the comparison of Mama Cass to Michelle in the public eye, either. Despite the blatant contrast, Cass stood her ground, and the crowds loved her. Unapologetically flirtatious and hilarious, Cass would charm the audience with her performances, as if she was singing just for them. In 1967, New York Magazine said about Cass, “She is a star, not despite her weight or because of it, but beyond it. Cass is a horizon.”

The Mamas & The Papas - Words Of Love

Likewise, Cass’s friendships in otherwise fraternal artistic circles - including Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, David Crosby, Gram Parsons, Dave Mason, and The Beach Boys - fostered her participation in pivotal moments of her time, as well as the moniker “The Queen of Los Angeles Pop Society”, coined by Rolling Stone. She garnered immense respect in a male-dominated industry, setting the stage for the then-nascent feminist movement. Ultimately, substance abuse, betrayal, and unrequited love drove The Mamas & The Papas apart after just three short years together. The group separated in 1968 after recording four albums. Meanwhile, Cass had consciously chosen to pursue single motherhood, and her daughter Owen Vanessa was born during Cass’s final year with the band. In tandem with facing the then-social taboo of being a single parent, Cass followed with her long-awaited solo career. By the late 60’s, she was a regular on popular nighttime American television shows, even hosting two of her own prime time television specials in 1969 and 1973. Cass’s wit and jovial determination paid off; she would release five solo albums and a top 40 single “Make Your Own Kind of Music” before her sudden passing in 1974, at a tragically young 32 years old. Cass Elliot was simply too talented to be ignored. Even the bands that didn’t want her, needed her. She successfully outshined others in an industry that was initially determined to shut her out; moreover, she broke through the harshest barrier – the gaze of the American public – and emerged as a glamorous, magnetic figure of her generation. Everything about Cass was big; her talent, her heart, and her legacy. The Mamas & The Papas have one platinum and two gold albums, six Billboard top-ten singles, and combined sales of over 40 million records worldwide. The group won a Grammy® in 1967 for the song “Monday, Monday” and were welcomed into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001. Cass was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame posthumously for her role in the Mamas and The Papas in 1998.

The Mamas & The Papas - California Dreamin' 

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