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Martha and the Vandellas

Martha and the Vandellas

R&B vocal group

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

What Martha Reeves and the Vandellas might have become had it not been for Diana Ross and the Supremes is anyones guess, but to hear Reeves tell it, the group would have almost certainly been a larger player for a longer period on the R&B scene. Even though the vocal groups peak occurred for but a few years early in its career in the 1960s, the hit singles produced by Martha and the Vandellasincluding Dancing in the Street, Heat Wave, and Nowhere to Runare among the most enduring in Motown and pop music history, having found their way onto soundtracks, radio play lists, and commercials decades after they were originally recorded. And in an era of sweet, sound-alike girl groups, the act distinguished itself as gutsier and grittier than most. Dubbing them one of Motowns edgiest outfits, Paul Evans said of the group in the Rolling Stone Album Guide that their best songs are all bass, brass, and thunderthe singers have to fight hard just to keep up.

Reeves chronicled her humble beginnings in the autobiography Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva, co-authored with writer Mark Bego in 1994. She was the third oldest in a family of 12 children, and the first daughter. She was born July 18, 1941 in a house on Washington Street in Eufala, Alabama, where a midwife assisted her mother because the family couldnt afford a doctor. Reeves didnt remain in Alabama for long, however. She was just under a year old when the entire family pulled up stakes and moved to Detroit, where they lived with relatives who had relocated earlier in search of employment.

Reeves vocal talent was evident at a very young age. At the age of three, she and older brothers Benny and Thomas won a church talent contest. In her autobiography, she recalls being entranced by the entertainers she saw on stage and screen at the Paradise Theater in Detroit, where her godmother, Beatrice Lockett, took her to see the likes of Cab Calloway and others.

In 1960, Reeves (who also sang professionally around this time as Martha LaVaille) joined a group called the Del-Phis, which included Michiganders Annette Beard, Gloria Williamson, and Rosalind Ashford. The vocal group recorded the single Ill Let You Know for Chess subsidiary Checkmate Records, but the single went nowhere. In her autobiography, Reeves blamed the label, accusing it of not supporting the act.

It was a mixture of luck and circumstance that brought Reeves and her Del-Phis to the attention of the Motown powers-that-be. After a chance encounter at Detroits Twenty Grand nightclub, Reeves got a job as secretary of Motown A&R director William Mickey Stevenson. While at work one day, she learned that background

For the Record

Members include Martha Reeves (born July 18, 1941, Eufala, Alabama), lead vocals; Rosalind Ashford (born September 2, 1943, Detroit, Michigan; left group, 1969), vocals; Annette Beard (left group, 1963), vocals; Betty Kelly (born September 16, 1944, Detroit; joined group, 1963), vocals; Lois Reeves (born Sandra Delores, April 12, 1948, Detroit), vocals; Sandra Tilley (died 1981), vocals; Gloria Williamson (left group c. 1962), vocals.

Reeves joined Del-Phis with Ashford, Beard, and Williamson, 1960; discovered by Motowns William Mickey Stevenson c. 1962; recorded first Holland-Dozier-Holland song, Heat Wave, 1963; disbanded between 1969 and 1971; reformed with Lois Reeves and Tilley, 1971; disbanded again, 1972; filed suit against Motown for back royalties, 1989; settled suit favorably with Motown, 1991.

Awards: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1995.

Addresses: Record company; Motown, 825 Eighth Avenue, 28th Floor, New York, NY 10019.

vocalists were needed immediately for a recording session with Marvin Gaye. When other vocalists werent able to come to the studio, Reeves and her fellow Del-Phis were enlisted to sing backup on Gayes Hitch Hike and Stubborn Kind of Fellow. Then, when fellow Motown singer Mary Wells reportedly failed to appear for a recording session, Reeves and the Vandellas found themselves in the studio recording a single of their own, Ill Have to Let Him Gobut not as the Del-Phis. Instead, the group was called Martha and the Vandellas, with Vandella taken from a merger of Van Dyke (a Detroit road near Reeves parents home) and singer Della Reese, a favorite of Reeves. Martha and the Vandellas was thus officially formed in 1962. However, Williamson opted not to sign a contract with Motown and reportedly left the act at that point.

When another Martha and the Vandellas single, the ballad Come and Get These Memories, cracked the Top 40 in 1963, the powerful Motown songwriting and production trio of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland offered their song Heat Wave to the group. It became one of the bands biggest hits, peaking at number four on the Billboard pop chart and topping the R&B chart for several weeks in 1963.

For several years thereafter, the hits continued to pour in for Martha and the Vandellas. Quicksand entered the Top 40 at the end of 1963, and later made its way into the Top 10, followed by what is probably the bands best-known and biggest hit, 1964s Dancing in the Street, which spent 11 weeks in the top 40 (including two weeks at number two).

Some critics today say Martha and the Vandellas popularity was at least partially due to the songs that the act received from Holland-Dozier-Holland, a conclusion that is borne out by the commercial and chart success of the band. The Holland-Dozier-Holland collaborations with Martha and the Vandellas turned out to be the most fruitful for the group, and occurred at the height of its popularity.

But, when Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in the late-1960s (after landing 28 songs in the top 20 for various artists, 12 of which hit number one between 1963 and 1966 alone), it turned out to be the beginning of a downturn for Martha and the Vandellas. As Joe McEwen and Jim Miller wrote in an essay on Motown in the Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, the best Vandellas records were made with H-D-H [Holland-Dozier-Holland], but after the atypically infectious Jimmy Mack in early 1967, the two teams went their separate ways. The result for Martha and the Vandellas was little short of disastrous. Although Martha and the Vandellas scored two more top 40 hits after the top ten smash Jimmy Mack (a number one R&B hit)including the number 11 hit Honey Chile, recorded under the name Martha Reeves and the Vandellas in 1967--those turned out to be the bands last big hits.

The latter part of the bands career was fraught with more change. While Beard had left the band in 1964 (to be replaced by former Velvelette Betty Kelly), the entire group was dormant between 1969 and 1971. When Reeves reformed the unit in 1971, it included her sister, Lois Reeves, and Sandra Tilley (another former Velvelette, albeit for a short stint). That incarnation was a brief one, though, and by 1972 Reeves had embarked on a solo career. Meanwhile, Lois joined the female vocal trio Quiet Elegance, organized by Temptations Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas played its final show at Detroits Cobo Hall on December 21, 1972, according to the Reeves autobiography. Tilley died nearly a decade later, in 1981, during brain tumor surgery.

At the same time that the Vandellas popularity was waning, Reeves developed substance abuse problems from tranquilizers and uppers. She also bore a child out of wedlock to an abusive man she had dated only briefly. In her autobiography, she called her son, Eric Jermel Graham (born on November 10, 1970), the greatest gift to me in this whole wide world and a reason to live a purposeful life. Early in her solo career, Reeves was also briefly married to a disc jockey named Willie Dee. After that rocky period, a 1988 Ebony magazine article reported that the singer experienced a religious rebirth in 1977.

Although the heyday of the Vandellas was over, Reeves remained active as a singer, both with and without various Vandellas. In addition to touring, she recorded several solo albums, starting with a self-titled release in 1974. She joined female vocalists such as Brenda Lee, Leslie Gore, and Mary Wells for The Legendary Ladies, a 1987 special on the Cinemax cable network, and toured with Mary Wells and Temptations David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks the same year. Then, in 1989, Reeves recruited Ashford and Beard for a reunion Vandellas concert in Manchester, England; the three have periodically played and toured together since then. The three also filed suit against Motown Records in 1989 for back royalties for the song Heat Wave; Reeves wrote in her autobiography that they had not received any royalty checks for the music since 1972. In 1991, the suit was settled in favor of Reeves and the Vandellas after a settlement was reached between Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and Reeves. He [Gordy] said he was sorry it had gone so far, Reeves told Jet magazine in 1991. Terms of the settlement were not made public.

There was some renewed interest in the group during the 1990s, a period that saw the release of several compilations of hits and singles. In 1995, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame during a ceremony in New York. Recalling her career in a 1988 Ebony article, Reeves said, I sang because it made me happy and helped me to help my family. It allowed me to develop from a little girl in the ghetto to someone who could pay my bills

Selected discography

Come and Get These Memories, Gordy, 1963.

Heat Wave, Gordy, 1963.

Dance Party, Gordy, 1965.

Martha & the Vandellas Greatest Hits, Gordy, 1966.

Watchout! (includes Jimmy Mack), Gordy, 1966.

Martha & the Vandellas Live!, Gordy, 1967.

RidinHigh, Gordy, 1968.

Sugar n Spice, Gordy, 1969.

Natural Resources, Gordy, 1970.

Black Magic, Gordy, 1972.

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas Anthology, Motown Records, 1974.

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas: Motown Superstar Series, Volume 11, Motown Records, 1980.

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas: Compact Command Performance (CD only), Motown Records, 1986.

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas/Live Wire!: The Singles, 1962-1972, Motown Records, 1993.

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas: Motown Legends, Motown Records, 1993.

Motown Milestones, Motown Records, 1995.

Martha Reeves: Produced by Richard Perry, MCA, 1974.

The Rest of My Life, Arista, 1976.

We Meet Again, Fantasy, 1978.

Gotta Keep Moving, Fantasy, 1980.

Martha Reeves: The Collection Object Enterprises, 1986.

Sources

Books

DeCurtis, Anthony and James Henke, editors, Rolling Stone Album Guide, Random House, 1992.

DeCurtis, Anthony, and James Henke, editors, Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll, Random House, 1992.

Erlewine, Michael, executive editor, All Music Guide to Rock, 2nd Edition, Miller Freeman Books, 1997.

Graff, Gary and Daniel Durchholz, editors, MusicHound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, Visible Ink Press, 1999.

Palmer, Robert, Rock & Roll: An Unruly History, Harmony Books, 1995.

Reeves, Martha, and Mark Bego, Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva, Hyperion, 1994.

Romanowski, Patricia and Holly George-Warren, editors, New Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 1995.

Whitburn, Joel, Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits, Sixth Edition, Billboard Books, 1996.

Periodicals

Booklist, August 1994; February 15, 1995.

Ebony, February 1988.

Entertainment Weekly, August 26, 1994.

Jet, July 17, 1989; April 8, 1991; January 30, 1995.

People, August 10, 1987; September 12, 1994.

Publishers Weekly, July 4, 1994.

Online

Martha and the Vandellas, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, http://www.rockhall.com/induct/vandeila.html.

K. Michelle Moran

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Reeves, Martha

Martha Reeves

Singer

As a member of the Motown label's Martha and the Vandellas, Martha Reeves was a large part of what Ebony magazine described as "the rousing pop sound that rocked Detroit and shook the world." Her lead vocals enriched a string of hits during the 1960s, including "Dancing in the Streets," "Heatwave," and "Jimmy Mack." After the final break-up of the Vandellas in the 1970s, Reeves became a solo artist; though she never achieved the same success as she had with the group, nostalgia for the pop music of the 1960s helped her regain her status as a popular concert attraction during the 1980s.

Reeves went to work at Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan, without much thought of becoming a singer. Rather, she served as a secretary for the company shortly after she left high school. She occasionally sang lyrics on demonstration tapes to enable Motown's artists to learn new songs, and when one of the company's regular studio back-up singers was too ill to participate in a recording session, Reeves was allowed to take her place. From there it was only a short step to becoming a regular Motown background vocalist. With Rosalind Ashford and Annette Sterling, who had attended high school with her, Reeves contributed her talents to the records of Marvin Gaye and other Motown proteges.

By 1963 the Motown executives felt that Reeves, Ashford, and Sterling had enough talent to form their own group, particularly with Reeves's strong voice on lead vocals. The women were signed to the Gordy label, a Motown subsidiary, and quickly released the hit single "Come and Get These Memories," which was soon followed by an even bigger smash, "Heat Wave." Though she hadn't aimed for that kind of success, Reeves told Ebony: "I sang because it made me happy and helped me to help my family. It allowed me to develop from a little girl in the ghetto to someone who could pay my bills."

After "Heat Wave," Sterling quit the Vandellas and was replaced by Betty Kelly. This personnel change did not impair the trio's hitmaking ability; with 1964's "Dancing in the Street," Martha and the Vandellas continued to trademark the rougher, more raucous rhythm and blues sound that distinguished them from the Supremes and other Motown female groups. According to Geoffrey Stokes in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, the record's catchy beat was produced, in part at least, by one of the producers banging on the floor with some snow chains from an automobile.

Hits like "Nowhere to Run," "I'm Ready for Love," and "Honey Chile" took Reeves and the Vandellas through to the late 1960s. Kelly was replaced by Reeves's sister Lois in 1968, but the following year saw Reeves sidelined by illness. When the group re-formed in 1970, it was composed of Martha and Lois Reeves and another singer named Sandra Tilley. Though this set of Vandellas scored some minor hits on the rhythm and blues charts, including "Bless You," "I Gotta Let You Go," and "Tear It on Down" during the early 1970s, they could not match the success of Reeves's earlier years. She obtained her release from Motown, and broke up the Vandellas in 1972.

The success of Reeves's early solo career was no match for that of her heyday with the Vandellas, either. She bounced from record company to record company—MCA, Arista, and Fantasy all held her contract at one time or another—and only scored a minor hit in 1974 with "Power of Love." According to Ebony, Reeves experienced problems with depression and drug abuse during this period, but was healed by what that magazine termed a "religious rebirth" in 1977. Not long afterward, in the 1980s, nostalgia for her music brought her better luck with her career. She was also helped by other artists' remakes of her Motown hits, such as Linda Ronstadt's version of "Heat Wave." Reeves told Ebony: "I really appreciate them and love them for doing it."

Reeves continued to tour England as well as the United States with other former Motown stars, including Eddie Kendricks and Mary Wells. Commenting on one such excursion, she announced to Ebony: "It was fantastic. I am very proud that after all these years, we could still produce the quality of sound and remember all the things we were taught—the things that still make us happen." And apparently she no longer needed back-up singers. "Now that everybody knows the muic, the people in the audience are the Vandellas," she explained in Ebony.

In 1989 Reeves reunited with two of the original Vandellas, Annette Beard Sterling and Rosalind Ashford Holmes. Together the trio recorded "Step Into My Shoes" for British producer Ian Levine. In 1995 Martha and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Reeves participated in a number of activities surrounding the event, including performing "Dancing in the Street" with singer John Mellencamp and a public discussion about her career. "There isn't anything I'd trade in for showbiz," she was quoted as saying in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "Even when I can't sing, I can go back and be an A&R secretary." In 2003 Martha and the Vandellas were inducted into the Vocal Hall of Fame, and Reeves performed "Heat Wave" with Bruce Springsteen at Comercia Park in Detroit.

In 2004 Reeves released Home to You, an album that included a version of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" and a new version of "Jimmy Mack." In 2005, in celebration of Motown Records' 45th birthday, Reeves headlined a concert in London that included Smokey Robinson, Lionel Richie, and Gladys Knight.

In 2005 Reeves decided to run for city council in Detroit. On August 2nd, she won over 27,000 votes, winning ninth place (out of 120 candidates), and becoming one of the 18 candidates who would be placed on the general ballot for nine council positions in November. "I've been dancing in the street," she told Ron Vample in the Seattle Times. "This is not a need for a job. It's a job that needs to be done." While Reeves expressed her concern over the increased crime rate in Detroit and the need for increased police protection, she also expressed an interest in preserving and promoting the city's musical heritage. "One of my biggest dreams is to put up statues downtown—statues of Stevie Wonder," she told Vample, "and Smokey Robinson."

Reeves won the election, and joined the Detroit City Council in January of 2006. "I'm not a politician, there are a lot of things I need to learn. My main reason for being on the city council is to be the voice of the public," she told the WENN news network.

For the Record …

Born on July 18, 1941, in Detroit, MI; children: Eric.

Pop vocalist; worked as a secretary for Motown Records, early 1960s; studio backup singer for Motown, 1962–63; lead singer for Martha and the Vandellas, 1963–69, 1970–72; solo recording artist, 1974–80, and concert performer, 1974–; featured in cable television special "Legendary Ladies of Rock 'n' Roll," about 1987; reunited with original Vandellas, 1989; released Home to You, 2004; ran for Detroit City Council and won, 2005; sworn in as freshman member of Detroit City Council, 2006.

Awards: Inductee, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 1995; inductee, Vocal Hall of Fame, 2003.

Addresses: Record company—Fantasy Records, 1775 Broadway, Ste. 617, New York, NY 10019.

Selected discography

Singles; with the Vandellas

"Come and Get These Memories," Gordy, 1963.
"Heat Wave," Gordy, 1963.
"Quicksand," Gordy, 1963.
"Dancing in the Street," Gordy, 1964.
"Nowhere to Run," Gordy, 1965.
"My Baby Loves Me," Gordy, c. 1966.
"I'm Ready for Love," Gordy, 1966.
"Jimmy Mack," Gordy, c. 1968.
"Honey Chile," Gordy, c. 1968.
"Bless You," Gordy, 1971.
"I Gotta Let You Go," Gordy, 1971.
"In and Out of My Life," Gordy, 1972.
"Tear It on Down," Gordy, 1972.

Solo albums

Martha Reeves, MCA, 1974.
The Rest of My Life, Arista, 1976.
We Meet Again, Fantasy, 1978.
Gotta Keep Moving, Fantasy, 1980.
Home to You, True Life/Itch, 2004.

Sources

Books

Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, Summit Books, 1986.

Periodicals

Ebony, February 1988.

Jet, July 17, 1989.

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, OH), June 7, 1996, p. 7B.

Seattle Times, August 4, 2005, A2.

Online

"Motown Legend Gets Sworn In," KGET TV (WENN news network), http://www.kget.com/entertainment/music/story.aspx?content_id=091F0FC4-A389-4346-B080-1AF3C5EB4CF8 (January 26, 2006).

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Reeves, Martha

Martha Reeves

Singer

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

As a member of the Motown labels Martha and the Vandellas, Martha Reeves was a large part of what Ebony magazine described as the rousing pop sound that rocked Detroit and shook the world. Her lead vocals enriched a string of hits during the 1960s, including Dancing in the Streets, Heatwave, and Jimmy Mack. After the final break-up of the Vandellas in the 1970s, Reeves became a solo artist; though she never achieved the same success as she had with the group, nostalgia for the pop music of the 1960s helped her regain her status as a popular concert attraction during the 1980s.

Reeves went to work at Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan, without much thought of becoming a singer. Rather, she served as a secretary for the company shortly after she left high school. She occasionally sang lyrics onto demonstration tapes to enable Motowns artists to learn new songs, and when one of the companys regular studio back-up singers was too ill to participate in a recording session, Reeves was allowed to take her place. From there it was only a short step to becoming a regular Motown background vocalist; with Rosalind Ashford and Annette Sterling, who had attended high school with her, Reeves contributed her talents to the records of Marvin Gaye and other Motown proteges.

By 1963, the Motown executives felt that Reeves, Ashford, and Sterling had enough talent to form their own group, particularly with Reevess strong voice on lead vocals. The women were signed to the Gordy label, a Motown subsidiary, and quickly released the hit single Come and Get These Memories, which was soon followed by an even bigger smash, Heat Wave. Though she hadnt aimed for that kind of success, Reeves told Ebony: I sang because it made me happy and helped me to help my family. It allowed me to develop from a little girl in the ghetto to someone who could pay my bills.

After Heat Wave, Sterling quit the Vandellas and was replaced by Betty Kelly. This personnel change failed to have much impact on the trios hitmaking ability; with 1964s Dancing in the Street, Martha and the Vandellas continued to trademark the rougher, more raucous rhythm and blues sound that distinguished them from the Supremes and other Motown female groups. According to Geoffrey Stokes in Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, Dancing in the Streets catchy beat was produced, in part at least, by one of the producers banging on the floor with some snow chains from an automobile.

Hits like Nowhere to Run, Im Ready for Love, and Honey Chile took Reeves and the Vandellas through to the late 1960s. Kelly was replaced by Reevess sister Lois in 1968, but the following year saw Reeves sidelined by illness. When the group reformed in 1970, it was composed of Martha and Lois Reeves and another woman named Sandra Tilley. Though this set of Vandellas scored some minor hits on the rhythm and blues charts, including Bless You, I Gotta Let You Go, and Tear It on Down during the early 1970s, they could not match the success of Reevess earlier years. She obtained her release from Motown, and broke up the Vandellas in 1972.

The success of Reevess early solo career was no match for that of her heyday with the Vandellas, either. She bounced from record company to record companyMCA, Arista, and Fantasy all held her contract at one time or anotherand only scored a minor hit in 1974 with Power of Love. According to Ebony, Reeves experienced problems with depression and drug abuse during this period, but was healed by what that magazine termed a religious rebirth in 1977. Not long afterward, in the 1980s, nostalgia for her music brought her better luck with her career. She was also helped by

For the Record

Bom July 18, 1941, in Detroit, Michigan; children: Eric.

Pop vocalist; worked as a secretary for Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan, during the early 1960s; studio backup singer for Motown, 1962-63; lead singer for Martha and the Vandellas, 1963-69, 1970-72; solo recording artist, 1974-80, and concert performer, 1974. Featured in the cable television special Legendary Ladies of Rock n Roll, about 1987.

Addresses: Residence Detroit, Michigan; Record companyFantasy Records, 1775 Broadway, Suite 617, New York, NY 10019.

other artists doing remakes of her Motown hits, such as Linda Ronstadts cutting a version of Heat Wave. Reeves told Ebony: I really appreciate them and love them for doing it.

Reeves continues to tour England and tours the United States with other former Motown stars, including Eddie Kendricks and Mary Wells. Commenting on one such excursion in July, 1987, she announced to Ebony: It was fantastic. I am very proud that after all these years, we could still produce the quality of sound and remember all the things we were taughtthe things that still make us happen. And, apparently, she no longer needs back-up singers. Now that everybody knows the music, the people in the audience are the Vandellas, she explained in Ebony.

Selected discography

Singles; with the Vandellas; on the Gordy label

Come and Get These Memories, 1963.

Heat wave, 1963.

Quicksand, 1963.

Dancing in the Street, 1964.

Nowhere to Run, 1965.

My Baby Loves Me, c. 1966.

Im Ready for Love, 1966.

Jimmy Mack, c. 1968.

Honey Chile, c. 1968.

Bless You, 1971.

I Gotta Let You Go, 1971.

In and Out of My Life, 1972.

Tear It on Down, 1972.

Solo albums

Martha Reeves (includes Power of Love), MCA, 1974.

The Rest of My Life, Arista, 1976.

We Meet Again, Fantasy, 1978.

Gotta Keep Moving, Fantasy, 1980.

Sources

Books

Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, and Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock and Roll, Summit Books, 1986.

Periodicals

Ebony, February 1988.

Jet, July 17, 1989.

Elizabeth Thomas

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Martha and the Vandellas

Martha and the Vandellas

Arguably the most soulful of the Motown girl groups, Martha and the Vandellas established themselves as part of "The Sound of Young America" (Motown's company slogan) with the Top Ten single "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" in the fall of 1963. Although some of their hits were thought to have political undertones, the songs they made popular during the mid-1960s were, like most Motown singles, African-American dance records with a strong backbeat designed to appeal to a white audience. Martha and the Vandellas emerged as hitmakers almost a year before the Supremes began to dominate the charts, but by 1965 the latter group had overtaken the former in popularity. As Motown president Berry Gordy, Jr., and the talented songwriting and production team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (brothers Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier) focused their attention on the Supremes, they neglected Martha and the Vandellas, as well as other female Motown artists such as the Marvelettes. The success of any 1960s girl group was dependent upon a fragile union of songwriters, musicians, producers, and label executives, giving the female artists themselves very little control over their careers. Like a number of other girl groups, Martha and the Vandellas were unable to sustain their success as recording artists because of their lack of autonomy, in combination with changes in popular music tastes that took place during the mid-1960s.

In 1961, Martha Reeves (1941—) began working for Motown Records in Detroit, Michigan, as William "Mickey" Stevenson's secretary in the A&R (artists and repertoire) department. She was already a professional singer, having released a single on Check-Mate, a subsidiary of Chess Records, as part of a group called the Del-Phis, which consisted of Reeves, Rosalind Ashford, Annette Sterling, and lead vocalist Gloria Williams. Reeves was hoping to become a Motown artist, and her break came when she was invited to fill in for an absent background singer. This experience gave Reeves the opportunity to bring in Ashford, Sterling, and Williams, and together they provided backing vocals for several of Marvin Gaye's sessions. Having proved themselves to owner Berry Gordy, Jr., they were allowed to record a song designated for Mary Wells, who missed a scheduled session. Since the Del-Phis were under contract to Check-Mate, the group decided to call themselves the Vels, and the single was released on the Melody label, one of Motown's subsidiaries. When the record failed to become a hit, Gloria Williams quit the group and Reeves was chosen to succeed her as the lead singer.

Combining the names of Detroit's Van Dyke Avenue and Della Reese, one of her favorite singers, Reeves renamed her trio Martha and the Vandellas, and the group was signed by Motown's Gordy Records toward the end of 1962. Their first release bombed, while the second made it to #29 on the pop charts. But their third single was the smash hit "Heat Wave"—a Holland-Dozier-Holland creation featuring Motown's incomparable session players, including Benny Benjamin on drums and James Jamerson on bass guitar—released in the summer of 1963. Despite the group's success, Sterling dropped out the following year to get married. She was replaced by Betty Kelly, who had belonged to a Motown group known as the Velvelettes. A year after their first hit single, which was followed by several less successful releases, Martha and the Vandellas recorded their signature song, after it had been turned down by Kim Weston. "Dancing in the Street," written by Marvin Gaye and Mickey Stevenson, became an adolescent anthem that was later covered by a number of artists, including the Mamas and the Papas, David Bowie and Mick Jagger together, and Van Halen.

According to Reeves in Gerri Hershey's Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music, some white listeners interpreted "Dancing in the Street" as "a call [for blacks] to riot." She explains that the song was intended to be nothing more than an up-tempo dance record. The intensity of this record was matched by the group's 1965 hit, "Nowhere to Run," a Holland-Dozier-Holland effort that to some listeners seemed to symbolize the plight of American soldiers fighting in the Vietnam War. At this point in their career, Martha and the Vandellas were being superseded by the Supremes. Their last Top Forty single, "Jimmy Mack," had been recorded approximately two years before it was released in 1967; the song was most likely withheld because of its similarity to the Supremes' material. Imitating other Motown acts, the group changed their name to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas that same year. At the beginning of 1968, Reeves's sister Lois replaced Kelly, and two years later Sandra Tilley took Ashford's place. They continued to perform and record until they disbanded in 1972, when Reeves chose to leave Motown and pursue a solo career on other labels.

During the 1970s, Reeves released several unsuccessful solo albums. Eventually she decided to resurrect the group for oldies revival performances. During the early 1990s, she appeared with the original members of the group and separately with her sisters Lois and Delphine. In 1995, Martha and the Vandellas became members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Often described as outspoken, Reeves may have failed to achieve the level of stardom reached by other Motown artists, such as Diana Ross, because of her reluctance to conform to the label's strict rules of behavior. As she told Gerri Hershey, "Once I used 'damn' in a song and was heavily chastised." Label owner Berry Gordy, Jr., also played a large role in determining who was worthy of stardom, giving the best songs to acts he favored. While Martha and the Vandellas were able to record a handful of unforgettable pop songs, like many other girl groups they were unable to sustain their careers without the continued support of those who initially helped to create their hit records.

—Anna Hunt Graves

Further Reading:

Betrock, Alan. Girl Groups: The Story of a Sound. New York, Delilah Books, 1982.

Gaar, Gillian G. She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll. Seattle, Seal Press, 1992.

Hirshey, Gerri. Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music. New York, Da Capo Press, 1994.

Reeves, Martha, and Mark Bego. Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva. New York, Hyperion, 1994.

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Martha and the Vandellas

Martha and the Vandellas

Martha and the Vandellas, one of Motown Records’ earliest and most exciting female vocal groups. membership: Martha Reeves (b. Eufaula, Ala., July 18, 1941); Rosalind Ashford (b. Detroit, Sept. 2, 1943); Annette Beard. Beard was replaced in late 1963 by Betty Kelly (b. Detroit, Sept. 16, 1944).

Martha Reeves moved to Detroit as a teenager and helped form the Del-Phis in 1960, recording for Checkmate Records in 1961. Spotted performing solo by Motown executive Mickey Stevenson, Reeves became secretary in the company’s A&R department. Recording the occasional demonstration tape as part of her job, she first came to the attention of Berry Gordy Jr., as a substitute for an absent artist at a recording session. With high school friends Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard, she backed Marvin Gaye’s recording of “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” his first hit from 1962.

Signed to the newly formed Gordy label in September 1962 as Martha and the Vandellas, the group scored their first major pop and R&B hit in the spring of 1963 with the rather tame “Come and Get These Memories.” Subsequently utilizing a harder-edged, brassy style propelled by Martha’s dynamic lead vocals, Martha and the Vandellas achieved a smash pop and top R&B hit with Holland-Dozier-Holland’s classic “Heat Wave” that summer. By year’s end, Annette Beard had left the group, to be replaced by Betty Kelly, formerly with the Velvelettes. Martha and the Vandellas continued having smash crossover hits through early 1965 with Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Quicksand” and “Nowhere to Run,” and Mickey Stevenson and Marvin Gaye’s “Dancing in the Streets.” Although Gordy was concentrating on the career development of the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas achieved major pop and smash R&B hits with the less raunchy “My Baby Loves Me,” “I’m Ready for Love,” “Jimmy Mack” (a top R&B hit), and “Honey Chile” through 1967.

However, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, as they were billed beginning in late 1967, never had another major hit. The group disbanded for two years, reforming in 1971 with Martha Reeves as the only original member to record Black Magic, which produced three moderate R&B hits. In late 1972, Martha Reeves launched a solo career, but her recordings for MCA, Arista, and Fantasy through 1980 failed to sell. The original trio reunited in 1989 for American engagements into the 1990s. Martha and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995

Writings

M. Reeves and M. Bego, Dancing in the Streets: Confessions of a Motown Diva (N.Y., 1994).

Discography

martha and the vandellas:Come and Get These Memories (1963); Heat Wave (1963); Dance Party (1965); Watch Out (1966); Live! (1967). martha reeves and the vandellas:Ridin’ (1968); Sugar and Spice (1970); Natural Resources (1970); Black Magic (1972). martha reeves:Martha Reeves (1974); The Rest of My Life (1976); We Meet Again (1978); Gotta Keep Moving (1980).

—Brock Helander

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