The group, which originally formed in Spanish Harlem, New York, in 1955, was first known as “The Harlem Queens”. The girls first met while singing at the Glee Club at P.S. 109 in Spanish Harlem. They were soon discovered by James Dailey, a record producer, who also became their manager, while playing a concert at the Apollo Theater’s amateur night, and were signed to a recording contract on the Atlantic Record Label. The girls lived in the housing projects of 1905 Second Ave and 99th Street and sang in the hallways of the building and downstairs in the playground.
In 1957, the girls released their first hit single, “Mr. Lee,” an uptempo song in which the narrator proclaims her devotion to her crush – her school teacher. The girls actually disliked the real-life Mr. Lee and the original lyrics to the song were something of a put-down, but Atlantic insisted the group revise the lyrics before recording the song. The single, backed by “Look at the Stars,” became their biggest hit recording, peaking at #6 on the Billboard Pop singles chart and spending four weeks at #1 on the R&B chart. This made the Bobbettes the first girl group to release a #1 R&B hit that also made the pop top 10. The song would later be covered by Diana Ross on the European version of her 1987 album Red Hot Rhythm & Blues. the personnel on “Mr Lee” included Jesse Powell on tenor sax, Allan Hanlon and Al Caiola on guitar, Ray Ellis on piano, Milt Hinton on bass, and Joe Marshall on drums.