Forty-eight years after her death, Baltimore native “Mama Cass” Elliot got a posthumous star Monday on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in a ceremony led by her daughter, Owen Elliot-Kugell, and sister, Leah Kunkel. It happened, appropriately, on a “Monday, Monday.”
Elliot rose to fame as a member of the Sixties folk rock group, The Mamas & the Papas, and later performed as a solo artist. She’s known for such The Mamas & the Papas favorites as “Dream A Little Dream of Me;” “California Dreamin’;“ “Dedicated to the One I Love;” “Go Where You Wanna Go;” “I Saw Her Again;” and “Monday, Monday,” which won a Grammy in 1967 (for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.)
Her solo hits include “It’s Getting Better,” “Make Your Own Kind of Music” and “New World Coming.”
The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which administers the program, added Elliot in its Recording category as a solo artist, not part of a group. Accepted in the Walk of Fame Class of 2016, she’s the 2,735th person or group to get a star on the Walk of Fame, which gets an estimated 10 million visitors a year and has been called “the world’s most famous walkway.”
Elliot’s daughter Owen led the campaign to get a star on the Walk of Fame for her mother, who died in London at age 32. The singer would have been 81. Her star is at 7065 Hollywood Blvd., between Sycamore and La Brea avenues, near the tributes to Sidney Poitier and Tyne Daly. It reads: “MAMA CASS ELLIOT.”
“A pioneer pop culture feminist and icon, Mama Cass was one of the greatest singers of her generation,” said Lupita Sanchez-Cornjo, board chair of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce.
“She created songs that defined a new musical era by blending the genres of folk, rock and pop into a new trademark sound. The Hollywood Walk of Fame is honored to remember her life and her legacy today.”
Also attending the ceremony and speaking were Elliot’s bandmate Michelle Phillips, the last living member of The Mamas & the Papas, and her friends John Sebastian of the Lovin’ Spoonful, and Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
Speakers also read tributes from luminaries such as Sir Paul McCartney, Carol Burnett, Richard Carpenter, David Crosby, Graham Nash and songwriter Diane Warren. Dignitaries in the audience included Micky Dolenz, Sid Krofft, Mackenzie Phillips, Carnie Wilson, and record producer Lou Adler.
The singer was born Ellen Naomi Cohen in Baltimore on Sept. 19, 1941. Her father Philip at one point operated a lunch wagon, the precursor of today’s food trucks, that provided meals to construction workers. Her mother Bess was a nurse.
The family moved to Alexandria, Virginia, when Elliot was young but moved back to Baltimore when she was 15. She started high school at George Washington High School in Alexandria and then attended Forest Park High School when her family moved back to Maryland.
According to a website devoted to the singer, casselliot.com, and other sources, Elliot adopted the name Cass while in high school, possibly borrowing it from actress Peggy Cass, and assumed the last name Elliot sometime later, in honor of a friend who died.
While at Forest Park, she became interested in acting and won a part in “The Boy Friend,” a summer production at a theater in Owings Mills. As recounted in “Creeque Alley,” an autobiographical single by The Mamas & the Papas, she went to New York to pursue a career in the theater and music. (“When Cass was a sophomore, planned to go to Swarthmore, but she changed her mind one day…)
The ceremony makes Elliot one of the few Baltimore natives to have a star on the Walk of Fame, which was launched in 1960-61 and now spans 15 blocks on Hollywood Boulevard and three along Vine Street. The Chamber of Commerce announced last year that Baltimore writer and filmmaker John Waters will get a star in its Motion Pictures category, most likely in 2023.
More than one of the speakers said they thought the honor was long overdue.
“Today, Cass Elliot takes her rightful place among the artists who became show business giants through their talents,” Sebastian said.
“This is one of those things that is so long overdue, I can’t even imagine why she isn’t up here herself, on her own, for all she contributed to our wonderful industry,” Stills said.
“You had not only that beautiful voice, but a beautiful soul,” Burnett said in her statement. “Congratulations Cass, dear, on at long last having a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.”
“’Mama’ Cass Elliot, a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, was a staple during the 60’s and 70’s. Her music spoke to the people and her songs have become some of the most beloved of all time,” said Walk of Fame Producer Ana Martinez, in a statement. “We are proud to add this exemplary talent to our Walk of Fame.”
Sebastian told the crowd that, in addition to being a talented singer, Elliot was instrumental in pairing him with guitarist Zal Yanovsky to form the Lovin’ Spoonful and adding Graham Nash to David Crosby and Stephen Stills to form Crosby, Stills & Nash.
He also said he wished Elliot were still alive and present.
“I would trade every bit of this ceremony for 15 minutes and right here, saying: Cass, we can smoke dope on Hollywood Boulevard!”
Phillips recalled when they met.
“On our first meeting, Cass and I experienced our very first acid trip,” she said. “It was 1965. We never came down. We bonded. She was my best friend. She gave me courage to sing when I thought I couldn’t make a note…She was born to be onstage.”
Elliot’s daughter Owen led a multi-year campaign to have her mother receive a star on the Walk of Fame.
“This was a grassroots effort from the very beginning, and so many people have helped make this day actually happen,” she said. “Her name is forever emblazoned on this brilliant star, and I am confident that she will be remembered for many, many years to come. She’d love this day, and I know she’d be so grateful and blown away by all of you showing up for her. I also know she’s here in spirit.”
“We have all experienced the aura of Cass’ stardom for decades,” said Elliot’s younger sister, Leah Kunkel. “This star, in the city she so loved, is the perfect way for her to be remembered. But it doesn’t surprise me. She has always been one.”