The Legend of Cass Elliot’s Mysterious Vocal Range

Photo Credits: Nick B / Instagram black_framed_glasses

Before there was Adele, there was Cass Elliot. She was a vocalist of the band the Mamas & the Papas, a folk-rock band who performed in 1965 to 1968. Cass Elliot or Mama Cass as she is popularly known amongst her fans, had an amazing vocal range. With no aid of modern auto-tune, she could hit high notes with perfect clarity and personality.

According to an interview with her in the Rolling Stone magazine in 1968:

“It’s true, I did get hit on the head by a pipe that fell down and my range was increased by three notes. They were tearing this club apart in the islands, revamping it, putting in a dance floor. Workmen dropped a thin metal plumbing pipe and it hit me on the head and knocked me to the ground. I had a concussion and went to the hospital. I had a bad headache for about two weeks and all of a sudden I was singing higher. It’s true. Honest to God.” – Cass Elliot

It seems bizarre that Cass got her voice through an accident. She claimed that that unfortunate event turned her into a rock and roll icon. Her voice could perform with such power and soul that would become legend. The Mamas & Papas had become a musical sensation in the mid-‘60s thanks to Cass’ pristine voice.

Cass Elliot with the Mamas and Papas in November 1966 / Photo Credits: The Official Cass Elliot Website

However, the pipe incident had been declared as clearly false.

According to some friends, this was just a cover-up story. John Philipps, the leader of the Mamas & Papas, thought that Cass wouldn’t fit into the image of the group and was reluctant to let her join in with the band due to her weight. Friends claimed that Cass could already sing very well even before that accident. She was already singing with the Big 3 (1962 – 1964) and the Mugwumps (1964) before she joined the Philipps’ band.

Cass Elliot faced a lot of criticisms due to her weight and she has opened up about it in interviews that it was a struggle for her. Nevertheless, when the Mamas & Papas disbanded, she built a stellar career on her own. Singles like Dream a Little of Me and It’s Getting Better showcased how her voice captivated the audience.   

Cass Elliot passed away on July 29, 1974. Another urban legend that sparked the background of her demise was a careless statement by Dr. Anthony Greenburg that “she seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich”. After a thorough investigation, it was revealed that the singer died due to heart failure. Her heart has already been weakened by years of obesity and diet routines. Sadly, the ham sandwich rumor persisted years later on.

The impact of Cass’ voice on the rock and roll music scene was phenomenal. She was already talented from the start. No accident made her into legend since she was already one.