Monday, July 29, 2013

Remembering Cass Elliot September 19, 1941 - July 29, 1974

One of the most popular sounds of the 60's came from a group of two men and two women known as "The Mamas & The Papas"  The voice that was prominent in the group was that of Ellen Naomi Cohen who is most remembered as Mama Cass Elliot.

Elliot was born in Baltimore, Maryland.  She took the name of "Cass" in high school from the actress Peggy Cass.  Her family soon moved to Alexandria, Virginia and her younger sister, Leah" was also a talented singer and member of the "Coyote Sisters" Cass took the last name Elliot in memory of a friend who had died. While attending George Washington High School, she took an interest in acting and her first performance was in a school production "The Boy Friend"

She left high school before graduating and moved to New York City to further an acting career.  She earned a role in "The Music Man" but lost a part in "I Can Get It for You Wholesale" by the one and only Barbra Streisand in 1962.

While in New York City, to earn a living, Elliot worked as an attendant in a cloakroom at "The Showplace" in Greenwich Village.  She then moved to Washington D.C. to attend American University where she began to pursue a singing career.  She performed with groups like "The Triumvirate" that would become known as "The Big 3" and soon known as "Cass Elliot and The Big 3"  When the "Big 3" broke up, one of the members John Doherty joined "The New Journeymen.  The New Journeymen consisted of John Phillips and wife Michelle and Doherty.  Doherty convinced Phillips that they should recruit Elliot into the group and the rest is history.

Now that "The Journeymen had two women in the group, they decided they needed a name change.  It was Mama Cass Elliot that came up with the name "Mamas and Papas"  Elliot was considered the most charismatic of the group.  Her distinct voice was a huge factor in their success.  Among their "memorable" hits were "Monday Monday" "Words of Love" "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and of course, my favorite "California Dreamin"  The Mamas & Papas performed until their final album was released in 1971.

Cass Elliot pursued her solo career until her performance in the Circus Maximus theatre in Las Vegas when apparently because of a crash diet, changed her voice.  It became very weak and the result left her   image a disaster.  She got bad press and it was later learned that she had used heroin prior to going on stage.    The result was that Elliot fought severe depression.

She continued to appear on television specials and variety shows.  She was a guest host on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and "The Julie Andrews Hour" among others.  She sang the jingle for Hardee's Hamburgers and continued her acting career as well. She had a feature role in the film "Pufnstuf"  Her successful music career blossomed once again.  In her personal life, she would give birth to her daughter.

One evening while her career was back on top, Elliot was performing at the London Palladium to two weeks of sold out crowds and telephoned her friend, Michelle Phillips on July 28, 1974,  excited because of her new found success and every night standing ovations.  After their conversation, Elliot retired for the evening.  During the night, she suffered from an apparent heart attack and died in her sleep at the age of 32.  There was speculation that she had choked on a ham sandwich but was later said to be a rumor.

Nearly 400 people attended Cass Elliot's funeral in the Hollywood Memorial Park that included her mother and Michelle Phillips.  Following her funeral, she was laid to rest in Mount Sinai Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California.

Mama Cass Eilliot was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

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