Women Behind the Scenes: Florence Greenberg

When it comes to the music producers of the 1960s, names like Phil Spector, Berry Gordy, Jr., and Burt Bacharach probably come to mind. Fortunately, NMWA’s current exhibition, Women Who Rock, brings to light one of the lesser-known women behind the scenes.

Scepter-Tomorrow

In the late 1950s, looking for something to fill her time while her children were in school, Florence Greenberg was invited by her husband’s friend to “hang around” at Hill and Range music publishers where he worked. She also frequented the Turf restaurant, where she socialized with future music-industry stars. From these experiences, the one-time housewife from New Jersey would be driven to begin her own record label, and though she could not have foreseen it then, she would launch the careers of many notable musicians.

Greenberg set up an office at 1647 Broadway in New York. In 1958, under her first record label, Tiara, she signed her first act, an all girl group called The Poquellos. Greenberg’s daughter, Mary Jane, had made the introduction after seeing the group perform at her school talent show. This act would later rename themselves The Shirelles and be credited with creating the “girl group sound.”

the-shirelles-wandAs their first single, “I Met Him on a Sunday (Ronde Ronde),” began to receive local popularity, Greenberg sold the contract to Decca records for $4,000. With the profit, she began Scepter Records. The Shirelles, still under Greenberg’s management, did not have charting success with the Decca label and their contract was eventually sold back to Scepter.

The Shirelles went on to chart with hits like “Tonight’s the Night,” “Mama Said,” “Baby It’s You,” “Soldier Boy,” “Foolish Little Girl,” and their first #1 hit, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow,” cowritten by Carole King. Originally offered to Johnny Mathis, “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” featured Carole King on the kettle drums.¹

Met-him-on-a-SundayDespite having no prior experience in the music business, Greenberg eventually ran three labels: Tiara, Scepter, and Wand—all items suitable for a queen.² At the height of Scepter’s success, Greenberg led a staff of fifty-seven, developed relationships with record distributors and promoters, and operated music publishing and management firms, as well as a record warehouse.³ She was pivotal in establishing recording artists such as the Kingsmen (“Louie Louie”), the Isley Brothers (“Twist and Shout”), the Guess Who, Ronnie Milsap, and Dionne Warwick.

Florence Greenberg with Dionne Warwick

Florence Greenberg with Dionne Warwick

By the mid-seventies, the record industry had changed; corporate mergers caused many small labels to lose their footing, and Scepter, which was not immune, closed its doors in 1977.⁴ For 17 years, Greenberg was invaluable—even instrumental—to the development of popular rock music.

Kathleen A. Kimlin is the new media marketing specialist at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Notes:

1. Gillian G. Gaar, She’s a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock & Roll (Expanded Second Edition), (New York: Seal Press, 2002), 33-34.

2. Callahan, Mike, and David Edwards. “The Scepter/Wand Story”. bnspubs.com. http://www.bsnpubs.com/scepter/scepterstory.html (accessed November 5, 2012).

3. Ware, Susan, and Stacy Braukman, Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 5: Completing the Twentieth Century, (Belkamp Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), 258.

4. Ibid.

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