feb 11 2017
Cass Elliot was born Ellen Naomi Cohen on September 19, 1941 in Baltimore, Maryland. She grew up in the Washington D.C. environs and in her senior year of high school, she performed in a summer stock production of “The Boyfriend” at the Owings Mills Playhouse where she played the French nurse who sings “It’s Nicer, Much Nicer in Nice.” After this experience, even though her family anticipated her to seek a college education in pursuit of a career, Cass forged ahead in the world of performance. She made a splash in New York and began an acting career, competing with Barbra Streisand for the Miss Marmelstein part in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” in 1962. She toured in a production of Meredith Wilson’s “The Music Man.” Elliot also produced a play at Cafe La Mama in New York.
But by early 1963 she had met up with Tim Rose and John Brown and formed a folk trio initially dubbed The Triumvirate, yet later known as The Big 3 when Brown was replaced by James Hendricks. The Big 3 were a progressive and innovative folk trio who recorded two albums and made appearances on The Tonight Show, Hootenanny and the Danny Kaye Show. In 1964 the group had begun to fall apart and it metamorphasized into a foursome called “Cass Elliot and The Big 3” which included Canadians, With Tim Rose & Jim Hendricks in The Big 3Denny Doherty and Zal Yanovsky (Tim Rose had left at this point). Soon this foursome became The Mugwumps who operated out of The Shadows nightclub in Washington. They released a single for Warner Brothers and stayed together through the end of 1964, until they too began to disintegrate. Cass Elliot began to work as a solo single in Washington, D.C.
At this point Denny Doherty had joined John and Michelle Phillips and the three were performing as The New Journeymen. The Mamas & The Papas in 1965Soon they left for the Virgin Islands where Cass subsequently joined them and the four began to sing together in mid-1965. Thus the superstar group The Mamas and The Papas was born. From 1965-1968 the Mamas and Papas recorded a series of top ten hits including “Monday, Monday,” “California Dreamin’,” “I Saw Her Again,” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
At this point Denny Doherty had joined John and Michelle Phillips and the three were performing as The New Journeymen. Soon they left for the Virgin Islands where Cass subsequently joined them and the four began to sing together in mid-1965. Thus the superstar group The Mamas and The Papas was born. From 1965-1968 the Mamas and Papas recorded a series of top ten hits including “Monday, Monday,” “California Dreamin’,” “I Saw Her Again,” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.”
The group’s last hit was a launching number for Cass Elliot. “Dream A Little Dream Of Me” became Cass’ theme song and beginning in 1968 she embarked on her own short-lived but solid solo career. Her distinct voice had always emerged from the groups in which she sang. In 1969 she scored big with “It’s Getting Better” and 1970 yielded the hits “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “New World Coming.” In 1970, Elliot also appeared in the film version of “Pufnstuf” and recorded an album with rock star Dave Mason.
Elliot had two prime time television specials of her own in 1969 and 1973, but most people remember her scores of television appearances throughout the early 1970’s with Mike Douglas, Julie Andrews, Andy Williams, Johnny Cash, Red Skelton, Ed Sullivan, Tom Jones, Carol Burnett and others. She guest hosted The Tonight Show, had successful stints in Las Vegas and continued to record for RCA during these years too. Cass had one daughter Owen Vanessa in April 1967 and she was married twice, first (1963-68) to fellow Big 3 and Mugwumps member Jim Hendricks and second to Baron Donald von Wiedenman (1971).
In 1974, Cass Elliot travelled to London where she had a two week engagement at the London Palladium. After performing to sellout audiences and basking in repeated ovations, Cass tragically succumbed to a heart attack on July 29, 1974 in London, following this successful concert tour.
In 1998, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Cass Elliot and her fellow band mates from The Mamas and The Papas into that institution. Her daughter Owen represented her mother and accepted her award.