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Girl Group Chicago to bow at women’s benefit

Covers for Covers IV

♦ Dec. 1, 10 pm

♦ Tickets, $12 ($10 with donation of a toiletry item)

♦ Schubas, 3159 N. Southport

♦ (773) 525-2508;

Last spring Shana East was listening to the Shangri-Las’ “Dressed in Black” and “getting all misty eyed.” She was having “one of those end of winter sort of bummer days,” and this mood mixed with the song got her thinking about girl groups.

“I’ve always been a big fan of the ’60s style of music that whole Phil Spector wall of sound,” East said. “I started thinking about how these groups were all men playing instruments with girl singers, and how amazing it would be to put together an entirely female group.”

The result of this brainstorm is Girl Group Chicago, an ambitious new project that is making its official debut at the sixth incarnation of Covers for Cover, a benefit organized by drummer and “Chic-A-Go-Go” host Mia Park. The show raises funds for organizations that help women in need. This year proceeds go to Sarah’s Circle, a non-profit agency that assists women who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless.

The popular event is unique because the music is provided by an all-female band line-up. Participating this year along with Girl Group Chicago are the Divine Hammers as the Breeders, Permanent Record as the Violent Femmes, the Lady Sentinels as Janet Jackson, the Miss Fists and the Astro Zombies as the Misfits and Girl Group Chicago, performing ‘60s girl group songs. The evening is MCed by Rattina, the female rat puppet co-host of “Chic-A-Go-Go.

“I call it Covers for Cover because I like the idea of female musicians covering songs to help provide cover for homeless women,” Park said. “There’s a lot of talented women up on that stage.”

With its 20 members, Girl Group Chicago will be by far the largest group and a tight fit for Schubas’ stage. “It’s an amazing group of super talented women from all different musical backgrounds and genres,” East said. “It all happened sort of by accident but a really pleasant accident.”

When East first set out to form the group, she was envisioning maybe ten members. But so many women musicians and singers were crazy about the idea that the concept quickly grew into a super group of sorts with East the lead singer. Park is one of the band’s percussionists.

Girl Group Chicago songbook is drawn around the sounds of classics by the Crystals, the Chiffons, the Charmers, the Cookies and the Ikettes. But when talking about the group’s repertoire which is steadily growing, East goes back to that one Shangri-Las’ song.

“It’s just so beautiful and has these very dynamic hushed parts where (Shangri-Las lead singer) Mary Weiss is just talking and the horns come in like a soft murmur and build,” East explains. “I guarantee hearing this live with all the instrumentation will give you goosebumps.”

East has long had an affinity with the girl group sound. She remembers singing along with the oldies as a child: “I identified with the women singers and felt deeply about the broken down love stories they were singing about. I think the songs take on a whole new meaning when performed by an all female group.”

East may be focusing on the ’60s girl group sound but she doesn’t plan on limiting the band to only that style. She sees many possibilities for the future, including writing original material and exploring the music of other eras.

“We have such great musicians that we could switch to a ’70s-style show with songs by say Frieda Payne or early Jackson Five,” East said. “Or we could go back in time to the ’40s big band era. We don’t want to limit ourselves to just one genre.”

East’s goal was to fine talented musicians but also to keep the selection diverse as far as individual experience and to keep the environment positive and nurturing.

“We have members who have been in bands for a couple of years and play around town and then we have others who have toured around the world,” East notes. “It’s just a really, really cool group where everyone is learning from each other and helping each other out. It’s turned into a really amazing experience for all of us.”

Mary Houlihan is a local free-lance writer.

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