Marvelettes, The

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Marvelettes, The

Marvelettes, The, vocal group that recorded Motown’s first #1 single. membership: Gladys Horton, voc. (b.1944); Georgeanna Marie Tilman, voc. (b.1944; d. Jan. 6, 1980), Wanda Young, voc. (b. 1944); Katherine Anderson, voc. (b.1944); and Juanita Cowart, voc. (b.1944).

Formed as a vocal group at Inkster High in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, the Marvelettes started life as the Casinyets (or Can’t Sing Yets). They took fourth place in a school talent show that promised the top three placers an audition with the fledgling Motown label (the label had just started scoring hits with the Miracles and Barrett Strong). Their music teacher was so impressed with their Crystals-like sound that she brought them along as well. The people at Motown were impressed with their covers of current hits, as well, and asked them to come back with some original material.

The Marvelettes got the title “Please Mr. Postman” from a friend of the band. As her last act as a member, Gloria Dobbins rewrote the song and gave it to the band before dropping out of the group to take care of family matters. They performed the tune for Motown producers Brian Holland and Robert Bateman, who refined, rehearsed, and recorded it. Fifteen weeks after its release in fall 1961, it reached to top of the pop and R&B charts, going gold in the process. Trying to capitalize on the “Twist” phenomenon, the group recorded “Twistin’ Postman,” early in 1962, but that only managed to make it to #34. They fared better that spring with “Playboy,” bringing that up to #7, and finished off the year with the #17 “Beachwood 4-5789.”

The group’s personnel began to change with every recording as members got married, had children, or just dropped out of show business. They went hitless in 1963. By 1964, the quintet had slimmed down to a trio and was put into the hands of songwriter/producer Smokey Robinson. Toward the end of the year, the Marvelettes were back on the charts with the #25 “Too Many Fish in the Sea.” During the summer of 1965, they scraped into the Top 40 with “I’ll Keep Holding On.” Early in 1966, however, Robinson and the group put out “Don’t Mess with Bill,” which rose to #7. About a year later, they hit again with one of Robinson’s most sophisticated compositions, the #13 “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.” That spring they had another hit with the #23 “When You’re Young and in Love.” They took one more Robinson tune, “My Baby Must Be a Magician,” to #17 in 1968.

By then, the only original member of the group left was Wanda Young. They continued playing and recording for several more years, eventually breaking up in 1971. Late in the 1980s, Young (who had married Miracle Bobby Rogers) led another session with Horton and some others for the Motor City label, producing a couple of minor disco records.

Discography

Please Mr. Postman (1961); Playboy (1962); The Marvelettes Sing (1962); The Marvelous Marvelettes (1963); On Stage (1963); Live on Stage (1963); The Marvelettes (1967); Sophisticated Soul (1968); In Full Bloom (1969); Return of the Marvelettes (1970); Marvelettes/Sophisticated Soul (1977); Compact Command Performances (1982); Now! (1990); Beechwood 4-5789 (1995).

—Hank Bordwitz

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