The Shangri-Las lead singer Mary Weiss dies at 75: Tributes pour in for girl group icon

22 January 2024, 12:10

The Shangri-Las: Mary Ganser, Mary Weiss, Marge Ganser
The Shangri-Las: Mary Ganser, Mary Weiss, Marge Ganser. Picture: Alamy

By Mayer Nissim

Mary Weiss was the lead singer on many of the band's biggest hits.

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Tributes have come in from across the world of music following the death of The Shangri-Las' lead singer Mary Weiss.

Weiss died on Friday (January) in Palm Springs, California at the age of 75. A cause of death has not yet been announced.

"Mary was an icon, a hero, a heroine, to both young men and women of my generation and of all generations," said Miriam Linna of Norton Records, the label that released Weiss's solo comeback album Dangerous Game in 2007.

A post on the official Instagram page of fellow girl group icon Ronnie Spector, who died in 2022, read: "We are deeply saddened to hear the news of Mary Weiss’ passing.

"She and Ronnie were kindred spirits; two fearless bad girls of the '60s. Join us as we spin the Shangri-Las in her honour."

"RIP Mary Weiss. Lead singer of the legendary Shangri-Las," said the E Street Band's Stevie Van Zandt.

"One of the essential Girl Groups of the ‘60s that empowered young girls to dream bigger at a time when society limited women to be secretaries. Their brilliant records with Shadow Morton defined aural cinema."

"Sad to hear of your passing Mary Weiss," said Shirley Manson on the Garbage Instagram page.

"You gave me much pleasure while I was growing up. In point of fact you still do and always will. I identified very much with you when I was a teen. I loved the spooky side of you."

The Shangri-Las - Leader of the Pack (1964) Stereo HQ Audio

She continued. "I appreciated your grit and your grind. Your easy style. And the swagger in your cool clear, effortless voice.

"I know the music business took its toll on you and robbed you of your joy at some point. No matter in the end. Your music lives on. It continues to resonate with seeking souls who need you. Now more than ever. Rest in the sands of Shangri La dear love. You will be remembered."

Journalist Simon Price said: "Mary Weiss' voice, along with Ronnie Spector's, defined that emotive 60s teen girl group sound.

"But there was an American Gothic eeriness to The Shangri-Las: "I Can Never Go Home Any More", "Past Present & Future", "Remember (Walking In The Sand)". R.I.P."

The Charlatans frontman Tim Burgess added: "Oh No. Mary Weiss. A role model for rebels has left the building…very possibly on the back of a motorbike. Safe travels x"

Rock writer and musician Sylvie Simmons said: "As a little girl in London, the Shangri-Las were up there with the Beatles and the Ronettes for me.

Shangri-La's- 'Give Him a Great Big Kiss'

"Mary Weiss' voice on those amazing rebel teenage-drama classics has a permanent place in my memory. So sad she's gone."

The Shangri-Las formed in the early 1960s as a four-piece made up of two sets of sisters: Mary and Elizabeth "Betty" Weiss, and Marguerite "Marge" and Mary Ann Ganser.

Between 1964 and 1966 they scored a run of classic hits, including 'Leader of the Pack' , Remember (Walking in the Sand), Give Him a Great Big Kiss, and 'Past, Present, and Future'.

Betty dropped out of the group for a while in 1964 after having a child, while Mary Ann left, then returned after her sister Marge quit.

Mary Weiss in 2010
Mary Weiss in 2010. Picture: Getty Images

The band's hits dried up towards the end of the decade and they split in 1968. Mary Ann died in 1970 following struggles with substance abuse, aged just 22.

The surviving trio had a short-lived and ill-fated reunion in 1977, playing a live set at iconic New York punk venue CBGBs with Patti Smith Group guitarist Lenny Kaye and recording album sessions with producer Andy Paley which are yet to see the light of day.

They played a final live show in 1989, while Mary quit the business and later became a purchasing agent and furniture consultant, before making her solo comeback in 2007 with Dangerous Game, backed by The Reigning Sound.

Marge died of breast cancer in 1996 at age 48, which means that Betty Weiss is now the sole surviving member of The Shangri-Las.

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