The Ladybirds were a five girl nightclub band that formed in San Francisco in the mid-1960’s and were infamous for performing topless. The band were comprised of Gail M. Roster of San Jose, California a.k.a. Robin Sherwood (vocals, guitar), Barbara K. Hunt of Orlando, Florida a.k.a. Barbara “Bobbi” Branch (guitar), Marge E. Laux of Dallas, Texas a.k.a. Marcelle Mitchell (guitar), Sharon A. Cole a.k.a. Lisa Lynn (bass), Deborah Briar a.k.a. Deborah Dayan (organ) and Lucy E. Aguilar of San Salvador, El Salvador a.k.a. Rosita Quintana (drums) who were all topless waitresses earning $13 a night in North Beach prior to forming the Ladybirds in early 1966. There were actually six girls, but photographs only ever show five girls together at one time. Some photos include Marcelle and others include Deborah, but these two never appear together in the same photo.
While they made their reputation by being billed as “The world’s first and only all-girl topless band”, they initially began their career as "air" musicians, but after a few mishaps with the background tape recording they finally learned to really play their instruments and were actually musically competent. According to an interview with burlesque queen “Satan’s Angel” by Martin Hoyem in American Ethnography the band was started by San Francisco promoter Davey Rosenberg. They were managed at various points by Voss Boreta (husband of topless dancer Yvonne D'Angers and manager of topless dancer, Carol Doda) and professional golfer Raymond Floyd. They were arrested several times for their topless antics and caused a stir wherever they played.
The band started playing publicly around May 1966 as a regular nightclub act at the Tipsy Club in the North Beach district of San Francisco at the height of the topless craze that was then sweeping over that city. There were topless barmaids, topless waitresses, topless photographers, topless car wash attendants, topless usherettes, and topless dancers and now finally there was a topless band.
After a 14 month stint at the Tipsy Club they were booked for a four week engagement beginning Thursday, 13th July, 1967 at the Crystal Room, New York City. The girls wore silver-colored mesh mini-dresses which were topless except for the sleeves. They sang rock ‘n’ roll numbers and accompanied themselves on four guitars and drums. Following the first show of the evening, which lasted almost an hour, the police moved in and served summonses to the girls in the dressing room. They were charged with “performing improperly attired” and were required to appear in court on the 20th July and perform with pasties for the remainder of their later shows in New York. This incident was reported by radio and newspapers across the U.S. creating curiosity and bringing national attention to the band. They made a television appearance on the Alan Burke Show, which was broadcast at 11.00 P.M. 15th July, 1967 on channel 5, the girls did not appear topless on the show.
In august ‘67 they caused another furor in Las Vegas, where they appeared with comedian Godfrey Cambridge at the Aladdin Hotel. On their opening night an official of the local branch of the Musicians Protective Union told representatives of the hotel to put the girls in blouses or the union would pull other union members working at the Aladdin Hotel off their jobs. The union boss declared the topless rockers indecent, an affront to the reputations of musicians, and declared the name of the band an insult to the President of the United States and the First Lady, Lyndon and Ladybird Johnson. The topless troupe went on as scheduled much to the delight of the capacity crowd. The union chief also made good on his promise and Godfrey Cambridge was forced to do his show without music. A hotel spokesman said later that the band would be performing there without blouses or pasties as the union’s own national headquarters in New York had overruled the local branch.
One cynical newspaper reporter came up with the following line:
“Las Vegas’ latest contribution to the dissemination of culture is an all-girl topless band, which has markedly increased public interest in music.”
The Ladybirds toured all over the United States and Canada and included shows at Hollywood’s infamous Blue Bunny Club, the Carousel Club in Toledo, Friars Tavern in Toronto, Isy's Supper Club in Vancouver, the Town 'n' Country in Winnipeg and Chez Paree, Montreal.
A newspaper article from the 24th February, 1968, in the Windsor Star related the Ladybirds' visit to Toronto.
TORONTO - "It's fun," said Barbara Branch as the Ladybirds, billed as the world's first all-girl topless band, concluded a precedent-setting, two-week engagement in a Toronto nightclub.
"It makes you feel so ... free," says Marcelle Mitchell.
It was "a great, daredevil idea," says Robin Sherwood.
And Debbie Dayan, a girl in love, said: "When you're in love the whole world is topless."
That's how four bare-breasted musicians summed up their experiences.
Robin (the guitarist) explained the Ladybirds members were working as showgirls in San Francisco when their manager (no name given) came up with the topless gimmick. Marcelle (who played bass) told the newspaper she used to work for a foundation garment firm "before I found out how fantastic it is to play guitar bare-chested."
Another article in the Windsor paper explained that the band did a special preview for an inspector with the Toronto police in an attempt to quell any trouble with the morality squad. The inspector needed a special preview??
By the early months of 1969 the Ladybirds were headlining at the big Terazza Casino in Mexico City at $4,000 a night. A newspaper article in the Reading Eagle says the Ladybirds were ordered offstage at the Terazza Casino by Mexican government officials who told them to “put on their tops and go home”. The band said they might sue in an attempt to get the four weeks wages they were promised. “We had a contract for six weeks and all of a sudden we don’t have any work anymore,” said Robin Sherwood. The band planned to fly back to San Francisco before embarking on a U.S. tour, they were stranded in the meantime and their manager had appealed to the American consulate for assistance.
A report by the Arizona Republic newspaper on the 9th March, 1969 gives us some more insight into these events.
"The Ladybirds opened Feb. 22 in a downtown nightclub and had presented their show without interruption until it was ordered closed Friday night. Then they were told to leave Mexico. While their normal presentation is done topless in the United States and other countries, the group, while here, wore a type of short vest that flopped open during the musical performance. Miss Sherwood estimated the cancellation cost the group $40,000."
Back home in the U.S.A. the girls were arrested on the 27th May, 1969 immediately after their first show at Kitty Kat Korner, a nightclub in Fort Walton Beach, Florida where they had a two week booking. The band members were taken in two cars to the police station where they were fingerprinted and charged with “disorderly conduct”, bond was set at $750 each. The Kitty Kat Korner was jammed packed for the performance. The crowds had started to push in to the dimly lit club around 9:00 p.m. for the 10:30 p.m. start, a few customers complained about the $2 cover charge, but none of them backed out. One person commented saying, “They play good, have fair anatomy and tell bad jokes.” There was a packed house waiting for the girls when they returned from the police station to do their midnight show. Their third show began at 2:00 a.m.
One of the later dates at which the Ladybirds show up in newspaper archives is the 22nd June, 1970. An ad that day in the Toledo Blade advertises a show by the Ladybirds. "They're entertainment plus they're terrific" the ad declares. They were still making headlines a month later when Lt. Kolomyjec of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Road Patrol ordered the band off stage at the opening of a carwash in Northville Township, Michigan. The weird thing about this is that they weren’t actually performing topless on this occasion, but were in fact covering their breasts with white sleeveless fringed garments on account of kids being present in the audience. Robin Sherwood explains, “We never played a carwash before but we knew there would be kids here. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with these costumes…”
The truly sad thing about all of this, is that they never made any recordings of their songs, or at least none that have surfaced. All that really exists of them are photographs and one featured performance of the band playing at The Blue Bunny Club in Hollywood that was included in the movie called “The Wild, Wild World of Jayne Mansfield”, which gained them some international recognition. One thing is certain though – THESE GIRLS HAD ONE HELL OF A WILD ADVENTURE!!
When: 1966 - ??
Where: Las Vegas, San Francisco
Now if I've got the story right there was another 60s all-girl topless band in America called The Hummingbirds, which was a spin-off from The Ladybirds, and featured on bass guitar a burlesque performer by the name of Angel Walker, who performed her burlesque shows under the stage name of "Satan's Angel". Other members of the band were Joanne Barbetta (vocals) from New York, Merry Richardson (guitar), Jean Randisi (guitar) both from California and Rene Venem (drums) from Minnesota. They were formed to allow The Ladybirds to tour while still leaving one topless band at the Tipsy Club in San Francisco. Angel Walker explains:
“The craziest thing [Davey] Rosenberg did was the all-girl topless band. He said: “Do you want to be in a band, Angel? We’re getting an all-girl band together.” And I was like “yeah, cool,” because I could play a lot of instruments. I couldn’t play them well, but I could play them well enough to get by. I was going to be the bass player. And so we all get together around the table, and he goes: “Oh, did I tell you this is a topless band?” I’m a 44 DD and he wants me to play Fender bass topless?! Where am I going to put … you know … I had to play way down here, that’s what I had to do…. And further: Yes. The Ladybirds was the first band. They went on tour, and so they started another band, The Hummingbirds, so they could still have one all girl topless band play San Francisco. That’s the one I was in, The Hummingbirds”.
Two members of the band give their thoughts on the topless band trend. Merry Richardson says, “See-through styles will spoil the success of strumming in the raw. It’s a groovy gimmick now, but where will we go when there are bare bosoms on the streets?”
Blonde Jean Randisi says, “Our type of act won’t last. When toplessness falls apart, I’ll have to work harder on my music. Toplessness is already infiltrating everyday life, with all the see-through blouses, low cut necklines and transparent evening dresses.”
The Hummingbirds played 45 minute shows, 8 times a night, 7 days a week for very poor money. Angel Walker states that she left the band because of this and went back to burlesque. In a 2012 interview with Attilio Reinhardt she explains:
“Yes! I was the leader of the all-girl band The Hummingbirds! Which was the second band, owned by Ray Floyd a top professional golfer. The first band was the Ladybirds! After their great success on the Broadway strip, they began to travel all over the world! So alas, the Hummingbirds! We were an all-girl “topless” band! It was very hard for me to play the bass with those big 44dd’s sticking out there. Most of the girls when the band broke up became leaders of their own band or singers. And that’s what I did, I sang. I had a rock bluesy jazz band and traveled all over the USA. I was known as Cece Walker! But it paid very badly! And so in the end, back to burlesque! There are very few pictures of us, as the club was too cheap to have new flyers etc. made, so they used the other bands promo… But I do have a few, and some recordings of us singing!”
The Hummingbirds toured the U.S. playing at such places as Miami’s Tomboy Club, the Hungry Eye in Indianapolis, and the Hotsy Totsy Room in Dearborn, Michigan to name a few.
Like the Ladybirds this band also created controversy wherever they went, but unlike them they managed to stay out of trouble with the law.
A publicity stunt in 1969 got them into the newspaper headlines when they appeared in Wall Street amongst thousands of lunchtime pedestrians on the back of a flat-bed truck. They came to publicize a resort hotel and drew a crowd of mainly men, when someone yelled “Take it off!” – The girls did. After taking their blouses off they started to play their instruments, but didn’t get very far before young men in business suits began storming onto the back of their flat-bed truck causing the girls to flee for
Fast forward a few years to 1974, that’s Friday, 25th October to be exact, and the Hummingbirds are about to create havoc in the small Rhode Island town of Tiverton. Three television crews, a crowd of reporters and 400 customers are crowded inside a small nightclub called Billy’s Button Room on the Main road. Publicity for the show was completely free courtesy of the police, town officials and clergy who sought to prevent the group’s appearance by bringing suit in the Superior Court of Providence. The Superior Court Judge ruled that the performance could go ahead resulting in a sellout standing-room-only show. That’s about the last we hear of topless bands in the U.S. as the topless craze was then on its last legs there and about to fizzle out.
Joanne Barbetta - Vocals
Merry Richardson - Guitar
Jean Randisi - Guitar
Rene Venem - Drums
When: 1967 - 1974
Where: San Francisco
The Naughty Ladies (U.S.A.)
The Naughty Ladies were a rather obscure four piece all-girl topless band which hailed from Willis, Massachusetts. The band members were Sharon Denning, 21, a former store owner; Susan Chase, 23 (guitar) a former bank teller; her sister Sandra Chase, 25 (bass) a former secretary; and their cousin Shannon Chase, 21, a former dime store clerk.
After playing together as a band for six months they made the newspaper headlines in February 1972 by being arrested and fined $100 each for "indecent exposure" on their premiere perfomance at the 11th Frame Lounge near Pikeside, West Virginia.
Who: Sharon Denning
Susan Chase - guitar
Sandra Chase - bass
Where: Willis, Massachusetts
When: 1971 - 1972
The Danish band were brought together and managed by Pierre Beauvais (ex-Strangers) around early 1968 in Copenhagen. The band toured and performed until 1986 and with replacements included 125 members during these years. The English girly magazine Parade ran a story about Pierre Beauvais on the 24th October 1970.
HE LIVES OFF 150 GIRLS
"Mr Pierre Beauvais owns a 'stable'. But it's a stable with a difference. You won't find any four legged friends there, only two legged beauties. 150 of them to be precise. And he's trained them to be topless pop stars, and top as well as bottomless dancers.
Their bottoms gyrate and their breasts swing to the beat of the music and the money pours in to the tune of half a million dollars for this 27-year-old Dane.
I asked if he needed a good road manager for his girls and even offered my services as a male groupie, but he wasn't interested. In fact he takes the whole business of training his girls very seriously. Well, who wouldn't? He has also installed a T.V. so that the girls can watch themselves perform and learn from their mistakes.
They've not made it over to England yet, although they have been to most European countries and Asia. But if they ever do-censor permitting of course-they're sure to be the tops, whether they are top, bottom, or completely-less."
The original lineup consisted of Michelle Beauvais, real name Naomi Frandsen (vocals); Janette, real name Stine Æbeltoft a former clerk and Denmark's first topless go-go dancer (bass); Sussi, real name Margit Nellemann Andersen formerly of Danish all-girl band ‘Les Filles’ (guitar) and Hanne Mattson formerly of Danish all-girl band ‘Girls Group’ (drums). A few months later Hanne Mattson left the band and was replaced by Bonni, real name Lonni Andersen a former bookbinder. Obviously performing topless wasn’t Hanne’s cup of tea. Margit Andersen married a doctor around 1970 and left the band, in a 1999 interview she says that she could have "well done without it". Later lineups included Michelle Deslatte, Pia Thurland, Puk Birgit Petersen, Katja Olsen, Brigitte??, Susanne Petersen, Sussie Johannesen, Marianne Ludvigsen and Marianne Hall Frederiksen (formerly of the all-girl group ‘Cheetas’).
In July 1968 the band visited the Norwegian city of Bergen and on the 29th gave two short performances at the Stjernesalen (Star Hall) where they performed renditions of Hollies and Supremes songs.
The Dagbladet newspaper ran a page 1 and 2 story on the 30th July 1968 describing their topless appearance there. [Apologies for the Google translation]
"For the first time in Norway!
The Danish girl group "The Lady-birds Quartet" had Norwegian topless debut when they appeared with their well-formed nudity at Star Hall in Bergen. Four very young Danish girls, who apparently were aware that there was big money in baring otherwise concealed body parts for a curious audience. How did chaste in Bergen? Chock Full house cheered and four stalwart policemen ringside reaction was first evening. Police were posted as observers because of a phone call the same day.
But the Danish girls was not to frame any shriveled moral clause. Well the mini minimally attired. But it did not seem to embarrass anyone. On the contrary. A fiery audience tried even to enter the stage where the girls stood to behold. It seemed however that they appreciated the kind hands.
The four exceptionally cute girls in Lady-birds are Michelle (23 years and vocalist), Sussi (20 years and solo guitar), Bonny (18 years and percussion) and finally little dark Jeanette, who is 20 years old and plays bass guitar. She has been a go-go girl.
The adventure began a year ago at Valencia in Copenhagen, and continued with tours in the US and West Germany. Therefore reach Bergen. Since standing Canada and Brazil trip.
- But top-less?
- Ideally, we would have had a little more clothes on us, insures Sussi, and the others nodded knowing.
- Some men try namely to take on during the shows, shoots Jeanette into. But otherwise people sweet, she adds PR quickly.
In the beginning we had always giggle when some men sat staring at us with their mouths open and easy unintelligent expression on his face, continuing grain blonde Sussi. Now however, we are a little more experienced, and does not fall so easily out of style.
How do Norwegians react to all this unfamiliar and shapely nakedness?
- Even the women who come accompanied by men seem to accept us, says Michelle, who apparently is in every way the most adult among them. - The very young girls in the audience are jealous, and not just a little envious, we believe, she adds with psychological omniscience.
- So why a bare-chested girl group. Missing musical talent perhaps?
- We cannot even say whether we are skilled musicians or not, exclaims Jeanette indignant. But in Sweden where we have had our biggest success, the public thought that we played with a phonograph in the adjoining room. And it was, well, a compliment, was it not?
- A lot of money it is good also to earn?
- [We] are not allowed to tell how much we earn, says Sussi, but we earn well, very well. Of course.
- Of course?
- Yes of course. Topless girl groups are nothing new. Moreover, it appears that nude show has a special attraction for men during the summertime.
- And no moral qualms because of minimal clothing?
- No, why would we?
- Assuming we are right when we guess that there is no lack of willing suitors after tonight's show has ended?
- Correctly guessed. But usually we say polite no thanks to that kind of dedication. We should know, the boys very well would join us, but Michelle needs over-convincing. Moreover, Sussi crushes so easily . . .
So we are only adding that the charming Danish girl group plays things by the Hollies and the Supremes. And it sounds pretty good. At least when the lighting is muted and echo machines adds a pleasant sound-veil over the music."
In September (7th & 8th) of that year they performed 2 shows in Denmark as a support act with the New Yardbirds on their Scandinavian tour of 1968, this would be the band that later changed their name to Led Zeppelin. The Ladybirds performed another 5 shows in September 1968 at the Fjordvilla Club in Roskilde.
Over the next few years the band’s topless show billed as the “Ladybirds Music Show” became notorious and caused quite a stir. With this image as a gimmick the group gained international attention and toured quite extensively throughout Scandinavia and Europe appearing at live venues such as KB-Hallen in Copenhagen, Olympia Halle in Munich, Berlin, Dortmund, Stadthalle in Bremen, Maastricht in the Netherlands each year for approximately 8-10 years, but mostly on football and sports stadiums.
They also toured England a number of times playing at venues across the country, attracting quite a lot of media attention and public protests along the way. In December 1968 they made the newspaper headlines when they were booked to appear in a Plymouth nightclub. Two city counsellors decided to convene a public meeting to discuss how the citizens of Plymouth could avoid getting their modesty violated by the four girls. The band lineup for the 1968 UK tour were: Michelle Beauvais (Vocals), Margit Andersen (Bass), Bonni Andersen (Drums), Puk ? (Keyboards).
The 1973 band lineup consisted of Marianne Ludvigsen affectionately known as "Lodvig" (vocals, guitar), who formerly worked as a bookbinder and had been a go-go dancer under Pierre Beauvais since the age of 16. Susanne Petersen (bass), also a former bookbinder. Sussie Johannsen (organ), a former sandwich maid and Lonni "Bonni" Andersen (drums) from the previous lineup.
Marianne explains how she was invited to join the band, "I had to go just to see what it was all about, and then there was one that tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I could sing."
Susanne relates her feelings about her former job and being in the band, "I dread the day that this is over, I remember how ugly it was to get up early in the morning."
They played a gig at the Granary Hotel in Bristol on Thursday, 22nd March 1973 where, so the story goes, one of the girls decided to take off her white leather bikini bottom and give some lucky gent in the front row a brief full frontal. She, however, was not so happy about the fact that one of the lads made off with her garment as a trophy. The band were again the centre of controversy when they played in Morecambe, Lancashire at the Morecambe Bowl (now Gala Bingo), there were protestors outside the venue. The story also appeared in the local press. Their last show was in 1984 at the Olympia Halle in Munich.
Hanne Mattson - Drums
Puk Birgit Petersen - Organ
Katja Olsen - Drums
Michelle Deslatte - Guitar
Marianne Hall Frederiksen - Bass
When: 1968 - 1986
Where: Copenhagen, Denmark
The Sweethearts were another topless all-girl group from the Pierre Beauvais 'stable' formed around 1968 and touring until 1984. During these years this band included 83 members. Original band members were: Toni ? (guitar), Lonni Andersen (drums), and former Go-Go girls Mary-Ann ? (guitar) and Lana ? (vibraphone). Toni and Lana were both Jamaicans, Lonni and Mary-Ann were both Danish girls. During 1968-9 these girls played topless to audiences in Copenhagen, London, Las Vegas, Vienna, Japan, Essen and at the 'Intermezzo' in Munich. The following article was printed about them in 1968 by the girly magazine "Daily Girl" in Volume 2 Number 3: [Apologies for the Google translation]
"Four spirited girls conquer the world. And where they occur because knows the hurricane-like jubilation no limits. On the Copenhagen sex fair, correct it would Porn Fair hot, debuted the "Sweethearts" - two girls from Jamaica and two from Denmark - with a racy show. Nobody knew them before, but they won the hearts of men by storm. For what the visitors missed on the mammoth spectacle slippery erotic, at the "Sweethearts" they found it in complete perfection: pure, unadulterated and exciting sex. In Karlsruhe jubilant fans tore the "Sweethearts" the last garments from her body, as souvenirs.
Everywhere surged a wave boisterous triumph against the lively quartet topless in vaudeville and revue theaters the audience brings a Topless Band for lawn, because the "Sweethearts" are as sexy as explosive.
The four fanatic musical girl transform any home into a cauldron when the shrill syncope their instruments sentiment fueling to the boiling point, their immense scale ranges from erotic sophisticatedly played sound to dynamically brilliant sophisticated Furioso the passion that everyone pulls out of the chair. Sex swings in the hot music, and sex swings in every movement of the breath-grown body, demonstrating with glowing ecstasy exact rhythm, her bare foot on beat whipping the clock, and the eight alluring breasts bounce funny and provocative with. Just as the countless hungry stalk eyes of men who fascinated follow any unrestrained movement of white and chocolate-colored curves.
On a triumphal unprecedented enthusiastic - "The Sweethearts" Europe: The German television turned with them a Monstre-show, and now started the four hot-blooded to a world tour that takes them to Japan."
A lineup change followed soon after and in 1970 the group consisted of: Cynthia Dunkley (a Jamaican), Bonni Andersen (see Ladybirds above), Ellen Waler and Bente Skogstrøm (both Norwegian). One English newspaper relates how Bonni showed up at the Elephant and Castle pub explaining that she was in England to recruit a coloured girl for her topless band "The Sweethearts". She then got on the stage and gave the regular patrons of the pub an impromptu topless performance and visual demonstration of what was needed by a would-be Sweetheart.
During their 1970 German tour these four girls took to the streets of Straubing, Lower Bavaria clad only from the waist down. The 38,000 mostly catholic residents of the town, sensing that their modesty was being violated, complained to the police. The girls found themselves escorted off the street in the back of the police wagon, and banned from performing there by order of the local council. This was not the case in the nearby town of Dorfen, where the girls were received enthusiastically. (see article)
They again caused another uproar when visiting the German town of Seedorf in 1971. Whilst appearing there at a local disco called 'Rose' they enraged the local church Pastor so much that he urged his parishioners to prevent anyone from entering the place, which he termed a "den of iniquity". The people of Seedorf did stay at home and the owner of the disco sued the Pastor for financial damage. (see article)
The Sweethearts L to R: Ellen Waler, Bonni Andersen, Bente Skogstrøm, Cynthia Dunkley
When: 1968 - 1984
Where: Copenhagen, Denmark
The Orange Shillelagh, a bar in the township of Biddulph, Ontario was the home of The Bare Ones, who claimed the distinction of being Canada's first topless all-girl band. They performed their topless act in Canada and also in the United States where they were deported for indecent exposure.
A newspaper article in the Montreal Gazette dated 12th June, 1970 reports the circumstances surrounding the 'Bare Ones' return to Toronto from the United States.
Canadian topless band gets bounce from U.S.
TORONTO – (CP) – Canada’s first topless girl band is glad to be back home. The Bare Ones, appearing at a downtown tavern, were recently deported from the United States for appearing topless in a Toledo, Ohio, night club.
“State officials considered our act obscene,” said Donna Jackson, band organist. “It’s all very strange,” she said in an interview. “Most places we play allow us to be topless.”
As far as Bill Bullicon, the tavern’s manager, is concerned, “the Bare Ones will be topless here without pasties.” He added that this is nothing unusual because many downtown clubs have had topless performers for months.
Miss Jackson, who like the other members of the band, is from the Toronto area, says they were deported under a Ohio State regulation that prohibits indecent exposure. “Being topless,” Miss Jackson said, “is just a gimmick. I wouldn’t want us to go any further than topless. “Our main ambition is still to present good music. Being topless is just part of the business.”
Who: Donna Jackson - Organ
Where: Toronto, Canada
Eight of A Kind (Canada)
Eight of A Kind are an obscure Canadian all-girl topless band that performed in the United States as well as their home country. They were active between 1970 and 1972 doing topless shows in places such as the Sportsmens Lounge in Coralville, Iowa and the Hawaiian Lounge in Montreal.
When: 1970 - 1972