The group was formed at Andrew Jackson High School in Cambria Heights, New York, a neighborhood in Queens, New York City, in 1963. It consisted of two sets of sisters: Mary Weiss (lead singer) (born 28 December 1948) and Elizabeth “Betty” Weiss (born 1946), and identical twins Marguerite “Marge” Ganser (4 February 1948–28 July 1996) and Mary Ann Ganser (4 February 1948–14 March 1970).
They began playing school shows, talent shows, and teen hops, coming to the attention of Artie Ripp, who arranged the group’s first record deal with Kama Sutra. Their first recording in December 1963 was “Simon Says”, later issued on the Smash label, on which Betty Weiss sang lead. They also recorded “Wishing Well” / “Hate To Say I Told You So”, which became their first release in early 1964 when leased to the small Spokane label.
Initially, the girls performed without a name. But when they signed their first deal, they began calling themselves the Shangri-Las, after a Queens, New York restaurant.
Some discographies list The Beatle-ettes and The Bon Bons, who both issued singles in 1964, as early versions of The Shangri-Las. However, they are different groups.
Mary Weiss was the main lead singer; Betty, however, took lead on “Maybe” (the LP version), “Shout”, “Twist and Shout”, and a number of B-sides and album tracks. Mary Ann Ganser took lead on most of “I’m Blue”, which is a cover of the Ikettes biggest hit at the time, and was included on their 1965 album Shangri-Las 65!.