Denny Doherty, one-quarter of the 1960s folk-rock group the Mamas and the Papas, known for their soaring harmony on hits like “California Dreamin'” and “Monday, Monday,” died today (Jan. 19) at 66. His sister Frances Arnold said the singer/songwriter died at his home in Mississauga, a city just west of Toronto, after a short illness.
The group burst on the national scene in 1966 with the top 10 smash “California Dreamin’.” The Mamas and the Papas broke new ground by having women and men in one group at a time when most singing groups were unisex. John Phillips, the group’s chief songwriter; his wife, Michelle; and another female vocalist, Cass Elliot, teamed with Doherty.
“Monday, Monday” hit No. 1 on the charts and won the band a Grammy for best contemporary group performance. Among the group’s other songs were “I Saw Her Again Last Night,” “Go Where You Wanna Go,” “Dancing Bear,” and versions of “I Call Your Name” and “Dedicated to the One I Love.” The group was a 1998 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But the Mamas and the Papas’ heyday was brief and it disbanded in 1968 following John and Michelle Phillips’ divorce. The members re-formed in 1971 for the album “People Like Us,” but all hope for a reunion ended in 1974 when the 30-year-old Elliot choked and suffered a fatal heart attack while eating a sandwich in London.
Phillips briefly re-formed the group in 1982 with Doherty, Phillips’ actress daughter, Mackenzie, and Elaine “Spanky” McFarlane. The foursome toured playing oldies and new Phillips originals. John Phillips died in 2001 at 65. In 2003, Doherty was co-author and performer in an off-Broadway show called “Dream a Little Dream: The Mamas and the Papas Musical,” which traced the band’s early years, its dizzying fame and breakup.