Female musicians in the 1960s were haunted by a common problem: male svengalis attempting to control their songwriting, their publishing, their money, their careers, even their looks. But North Miami Beach’s Belles were remarkably free of any masculine influence—an all-girl, teen rock band that played instruments, wrote songs, and were managed by a mom. “As far as we know, we’re the first all-girl rock ‘n’ roll band—at least in this area,” drummer Pam Kent told the Miami Herald in May 1966.
Formed in late ’65, the group was the brainchild of guitarist Debbie Teaver. “I’d been taking guitar for a couple of years and I thought it would be cool to have a girls’ rock band,” she said. At age fourteen she began calling local music stores in search of other girls who shared her interests. She found Kent, along with two Cuban-American sisters—lead guitarist Mabel “May” Perez and bassist Marina Perez, the oldest just sixteen. The band’s demographics were a perfect mirror of the diversity of their South Florida home. “I was pretty much a mutt, background-wise,” said Teaver. “And then we had the two Spanish girls, and the Kent family was Jewish. So we were a good representation of multiculturalism, even then.”
Practicing at the Teaver house, the girls immediately clicked, and found early support in her parents. Teaver’s father, Bill, built them a PA system, and used his connections to procure hip matching outfits “for promotional consideration”—turquoise and white stretch denim, leather lacing and white gogo boots. Teaver’s mother, Millie, took over marketing and PR for the band, booked their gigs, and even landed a half-page profile in the Miami Herald based on their novelty as woman playing rock. “The Belles figure being girls is a good way to stand out among the hundreds of rock ‘n’ roll teenage bands around here, so they don’t resort to kooky fashions or zany outfits,” Beverly Wilson reported for the Herald. Wilson’s headline described them as “Natural Longhairs in the World of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” and inquired about their dating lives, and their opinion on current teen fashions, including shaggy hair on men. “The image they project is lady-like, not wild,” it added.
Though they never ventured outside of Dade and Broward counties, the girls played a steady stream of shows at teen dances and at Homestead Air Force Base. They booked one show a week, with practice on Sundays. Starting with covers of popular hits, the girls soon branched out to original material. It wasn’t long before manager Millie Teaver felt the need to get the girls on tape. She used a small inheritance to fund a demo recording. Choosing the soon-to-be-legendary Criteria Studios, the Belles laid down a cover of “Unchained Melody” with Marina on lead, and a Teaver original called “Come Back.”
On the strength of the demo, Millie quickly got the girls signed to local label Tiara Record, who set them up with a recording date at Dukoff Studios. Released the same month as their Herald write-up, the Belles’ lone single featured “Melvin,” a gender-swapped rewrite of Them’s “Gloria,” b/w “Come Back.” It quickly led to local radio appearances on WQAM with Rick Shaw, and WMBM with Milton “Butterball” Smith, among others. But the girls’ ages, and the changing times, worked against them. “We were kind of the last of the clean-cut kids in 1966,” said Teaver. “By the time I was in high school, that’s when people were smoking pot. LSD had started.” She described the end of the band as a simple case of “teen hormones and female teen drama.” Fourteen years old is a really really difficult age to be for the person who is fourteen,” she concluded.
By the end of the year, the Belles were over. Teaver continued to play and sing solo throughout high school, though she eventually lost touch with the other girls. By the early ’90s, she had moved into performing kids’ and family music at private schools and family-oriented festivals and concerts. “It was fun,” she said, reflecting on her time in the Belles. “It was a good experience until it wasn’t.”
- The Belles Melvin
- The Belles Come Back
- The Belles Unchained Melody