An All Girl Band from Michigan – (1964 – 1969)
“Home Girls” [the casts] (1964 – 1969)
- 1964: Jan McClellan (lead), Lynn Hawkins (rhythm), Diane Abray (drums)
- 1964-65: McClellan, Hawkins, Abray, Corinne Helco (bass)
- 1965-66: McClellan, Abray, Mary Linton (rhythm), Carol Linton (bass)
- 1966-67: McClellan, the Lintons, Jino Chominski (drums)
- 1967-68: McClellan, Chominski, Darlene Groncki (keyboards), Chris Janssen (bass)
- 1968-69: McClellan, Groncki, Janssen, Denise Mandell (drums)
- 1969: McClellan, Sue Lade (bass), Lynne Serridge (keyboards), Leigh Serridge (drums)
Influences: Beatles, Motown, Vanilla Fudge, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, Blood, Sweat & Tears
The Debutantes came on the Detroit scene in 1964 soon after Jan McClellan, 14, watched the first Beatles appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show and was struck with the idea of having a band in the Beatles genre, but all girls. McClellan recruited two friends and taught them to play guitar and drums.
Before they even had amplified instruments, the Debutantes auditioned for the Michigan State Fair Teen Scene and scored a spot in the program. McClellan’s grandfather, Fred Collins, a General Motors PR exec and former reporter, made a call to a photographer and got the girls a photo shoot to promote the Fair. It took place in the old house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit that served as the recording studio known as Hitsville USA. As it turned out, the shoot also included the legendary Marvin Gaye and a skinny young Little Stevie Wonder, who had just released “Fingertips Part II”. Hitsville later became Motown.
The band made return appearances at the Michigan State Fair Grounds Music Shell, sharing the marquee with Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Martha & the Van Dellas, Buddy Rich & His Orchestra, Buddy Greco, Sergio Mendes & Brazil 66, “?”& the Mysterians, and The Rationals. The Debutantes appeared in the Music Shell one last time for the entertainment of the National Guardsmen when the 1967 Detroit race riots had the city under siege.
The spectacular Detroit Auto Show at Cobo Hall saw the Debs opening for such names as Della Reese, the Woody Herman Orchestra with Jake Hanna, and Bobby Vinton. In smaller venues they were frequently paired with Bob Seger and the Last Heard or The Kingsmen (“Louie Louie”). The Debutantes were frequent guests on the American Bandstand-type show, “Swingin’ Time” on CKLW-TV, with hosts Robin Seymour and Tom Shannon. They also appeared on the syndicated show “Upbeat” from Cleveland, along with Spanky & Our Gang and the legendary B.B. King.
The band toured most of the 50 states, Canada, and the Bahamas. In 1968 they booked 4 months in Germany, entertaining U.S. troops at Air Force and Army clubs. They played some civilian clubs as well, including the Berlin Playboy Club and the famed Star Club in Hamburg where the Beatles first gained international acclaim.
1969 brought another 4-month tour, to the excitement of troops stationed throughout Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, South Korea, Okinawa, and Japan. But the realities of Far East tour were unexpected. Upon landing in Vietnam, the Korean talent point-person asked to see the band’s passports and once they were in his hands, he declined to return them. McClellan recalls, “ ‘Mr. Kim’ explained the way he does business is like this: once he deemed we had performed enough shows to reimburse him for our plane fares – which we had believed were included in the arrangements – he would return our passports and we were free to leave. I did not like this sudden change of rules and thought it smacked of slavery.” With this development, coupled with the war atmosphere, culture shock, intense heat, and the onset of water-borne illness, McClellan launched a futile attempt at getting an early reprieve by pleading with the U.S. Embassy and President Nixon to intervene, but the effort yielded no response. “The troops greatly appreciated our appearances, but it was very difficult being there and we desperately wanted to come home. While traveling to bases in trucks we were shot at, we were shot at being transported by helicopter, and one of our hotels suffered a hit when, fortunately, we were not in our rooms.” A singer in another group was killed when she stepped to the microphone, directly in the line of fire of an assassin targeting a high-ranking officer.
Upon returning to the U.S., The Debutantes went home to Michigan and Wisconsin and were officially dis-“band”-ed in late 1969.