Shirley Ellis

Shirley Marie O'Garra[1] (stage name Shirley Ellis, married name Shirley Elliston;[2] January 19, 1929 – October 5, 2005[3]) was an American soul music singer and songwriter of West Indian heritage.[4][5] She is best known for her novelty hits "The Nitty Gritty" (1963, US no. 8), "The Name Game" (1964, US no. 3) and "The Clapping Song" (1965, US no. 8 and UK no. 6). "The Clapping Song" sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.[6]

Shirley Ellis
Birth nameShirley Marie O'Garra
Also known asShirley Ellis
Born(1929-01-19)January 19, 1929
The Bronx, New York City, U.S.
DiedOctober 5, 2005(2005-10-05) (aged 76)
The Bronx, New York City, U.S.
Occupation(s)Singer, songwriter
Years active1958–1968


By 1954, Ellis had written two songs recorded by the Chords.[5] She was originally in the group the Metronomes and married the lead singer, Alphonso Elliston. All her solo hits were written by her and her manager, record producer, and songwriting partner Lincoln Chase.[7]

Ellis had recording contracts with the Kapp Records subsidiary Congress and later Columbia and Bell, but retired from the music industry in 1968.

In August 2020, "The Clapping Song" was used in a TV commercial for the Samsung Galaxy Tab 7, and in April 2021 her "I See It, I Like It, I Want It" was in another Samsung commercial, this time for the Galaxy Z Flip 5G and Galaxy Z Fold2. In 2021, "The Clapping Song" was used in the movie "Ghostbusters: Afterlife".

Personal lifeEdit

Shirley O'Garra was born to William H. and Petra (Smith) O'Garra. Her father was a native of Montserrat, and her mother was born in the Bahamas.[4] Shirley had three full siblings, Joyce, Bertram and William Jr., and four half siblings, Reginald, Suzanne, Joycelyn and Berbian. O'Garra married her husband, Arnold Alphonso Elliston (October 21, 1929 – August 23, 2009; professional name: Alphonso Elliston), in Florida on August 3, 1949.[1] She died on October 5, 2005 in New York City at the age of 76.

Cover versionsEdit

Cover versions of her hits have been recorded by Madeline Bell, the Belle Stars,[7] Laura Branigan, Aaron Carter, Gary Glitter, Ricardo Ray, Pia Zadora, Southern Culture on the Skids, Gladys Knight & the Pips (a version of "The Nitty Gritty", produced by Norman Whitfield), and Divine, a.k.a. Harris Glenn Milstead (a hi-NRG version of "The Name Game").[5] In addition, her song "Soul Time" was sampled by the UK band the Go! Team for their single "Bottle Rocket". In 2011, “The Name Game” was covered by Jessica Lange and the cast of American Horror Story: Asylum and was featured in the episode of the same name.[8]


Studio albumsEdit

  • In Action (1964, Congress)
  • The Name Game (1965, Congress)
  • Sugar, Let's Shing-a-Ling (1967, Columbia)[7]

Compilation albumsEdit

  • The Name Game (1988, MCA Special Products)
  • The Very Best of Shirley Ellis (1995, Taragon)[7]
  • The Complete Congress Recordings (2001, Connoisseur Collection)
  • Three Six Nine!: The Best of Shirley Ellis (2018, Ace)


Year Single Peak chart positions Album

1963 "The Nitty Gritty" 8 4 In Action
1964 "(That's) What the Nitty Gritty Is" 72 14
"Shy One" 130 43
"Such a Night"
"The Name Game" 3 4 40 2 The Name Game
1965 "The Clapping Song (Clap Pat Clap Slap)" 8 16 86 10 6
"The Puzzle Song (A Puzzle in Song)"/"I See It, I Like It, I Want It" (B-side) 78 32
"I Will Never Forget" The Name Game
"You Better Be Good, World"
1966 "Ever See a Diver Kiss His Wife While the Bubbles Bounce About Above the Water?" 135
"Birds, Bees, Cupids and Bows" Sugar, Let's Shing-a-Ling
1967 "Soul Time" 67 31 87
"Sugar Let’s Shing-a-Ling"
1978 "The Clapping Song" (re-release) 59
"—" denotes a recording that did not chart or was not released in that territory.


  1. ^ a b "Person Details for Arnold Alphonso Elliston, "Florida, Marriages, 1830-1993" —". Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  2. ^ Whitburn, J. (2010). The Billboard book of top 40 hits. New York: Billboard Books. p. 214. ISBN 0307985121
  3. ^ "Shirley Ellis Page". Retrieved July 31, 2014.
  4. ^ a b "United States Census, 1930, Shirley O Gara in household of William O Gara". Archived from the original on March 6, 2016. Retrieved August 16, 2014.
  5. ^ a b c "Shirley Ellis". Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  6. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 190. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
  7. ^ a b c d Colin Larkin, ed. (1997). The Virgin Encyclopedia of Sixties Music (First ed.). Virgin Books. pp. 178/9. ISBN 0-7535-0149-X.
  8. ^ "". Diddy Wah. Retrieved October 17, 2014.
  9. ^ a b "US Charts > Shirley Ellis". Billboard. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  10. ^ David Kent (1993). Australian Charts Book 1970—1992. Australian Chart Book Pty Ltd, Turramurra, N.S.W. ISBN 0-646-11917-6.
  11. ^ "CAN Charts > Shirely Ellis". RPM. Retrieved May 19, 2020.
  12. ^ "UK Charts > Shirley Ellis". Official Charts Company. Retrieved May 19, 2020.

External linksEdit