‘Leader of the Pack’ singer and former Long Island resident Mary Weiss, 75, dies


Former Babylon resident Mary Weiss, lead singer of the 1960s pop group the Shangri-Las, whose hits included their anthem “Leader of the Pack, has died. She was 75.

A member of the Long Island Music and Entertainment Hall of Fame, Weiss died Friday in Palm Springs, California, said Miriam Linna, founder of Weiss’ label, Norton Records. A cause of death was not given.

Weiss and her sister Elizabeth “Betty” Weiss, along with twin sisters Marguerite “Marge” Ganser and Mary Ann Ganser, formed The Shangri-Las in Queens, a name derived from a restaurant in the borough. The two pairs of teen siblings had met in school and began performing at school dances and teen hops.

After producer Artie Ripp signed them to Kama Sutra Productions, the Shangri-Las found enormous success as a girl group with a tough, working-class image and drama-filled songs of teen dreams and heartbreak that consumed mid-1960s radio waves.

Their first hit, ”Remember (Walking in the Sand),” reached the Billboard top 5 in 1964 for Red Bird Records. Weiss was just 15 when it charted. The song, which Aerosmith would later cover, was written by Brill Building pop songwriter-producer George “Shadow” Morton.

Morton became a key architect of the Shangri-Las, developing a sound that fused a Ronettes-style R&B with big teenage emotions. The classic “Leader of the Pack,” co-written by Morton, was the top Billboard single of 1965. On it, Weiss sang:

“My folks were always putting him down

They said he came from the wrong side of town

They told me he was bad, but I knew he was sad

That’s why I fell for the leader of the pack”

The Shangri-Las disbanded in 1968 amid legal issues. But they remained a pioneering all-female group.

“I truly believe a lot of men were considered artists, whether or not people wrote for them, where women were considered products,” Weiss said in a 2007 interview at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

After the break-up, Weiss moved to San Francisco and fell out of the music business. For years, she worked at an architectural firm. It would be four decades before Weiss recorded an album of new material again. She made her solo debut with the 2007 album “Dangerous Game,” living at the time in Babylon.

On “Dangerous Game,” Weiss recaptured some of the spirit and sound of the Shangri-Las but from a more adult perspective.

“I just want to have fun now. And I’m going to. People can take advantage of you in your youth,” Weiss told New York magazine. “And they’re not going to do it again. There are benefits to being a grown-up.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Top photo: Singer Mary Weiss is photographed in Babylon, N.Y., on June 18, 2007. (AP Photo/Jim Cooper, File)

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