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Profile: Martha and the Vandellas

By

Martha and the Vandellas

Martha and the Vandellas

Formed:

1962 (Detroit, MI)

Genres:

Pop, Motown, Soul, Girl Group, Pop-Soul

Principal Members:

Martha Reeves (b. July 18, 1941, Eufaula, AL): lead vocal (alto) (1962-1972)
Rosalyn Ashford (b. September 2, 1943, Detroit, MI): vocals (1962-1969)
Betty Kelly (b. September 16, 1944, Detroit, MI): vocals (1963-1967)

Contributions to music:

  • Provided a harder, more soulful counterpart to the Supremes in Motown's stable
  • Lead singer Martha Reeves is one of rock and roll's most talented, classically trained vocalists
  • Helped carry the girl-group torch through the turbulent Sixties
  • Brought a gospel vocal approach to The Sound of Young America
  • Aside from the Supremes, the most successful girl group of all time

Early years:

Martha Reeves, a transplanted Alabamian who'd grown up in the Motor City, sang gospel in church and secular music around town, like many of her contemporaries. A talent contest win led to Reeves performing at Detroit's Twenty Grand nightclub, where Motown A&R man William "Mickey" Stevenson heard her sing and invited her to his office. No solo career came of it, but answering phones while waiting on her appointment led to Martha being hired as his secretary!

Success:

A few months later, Stevenson was overseeing a session for Mary Wells' "I'll Have To Let Him Go," but Wells was absent, and union rules dictated that a singer be present. So Mickey called in Mary, who did such a good job that she and her group, the Del-Phis, were signed to the company as Martha and the Vandellas. "Come and Get These Memories," their first single under the new name, was a Top Thirty hit, but their next, "Heat Wave," was a flat-out smash. The similar "Quicksand" soon followed it.

Later years:

The hits kept on coming -- "Dancing in the Street," "Nowhere to Run," "Jimmy Mack" -- but Reeves, under the constant pressure of the Motown schedule and convinced that label head Berry Gordy was favoring Diana Ross and the Supremes, soon turned to (prescription) drugs and despair. After her nervous breakdown in 1968, the group returned, but the hits had dried up. Following an unsuccessful solo career, Reeves cleaned up and was "born again" in the late Seventies. She performs to this day.

Other facts:

  • Other members: Annette Sterling Beard (1962-1963), Lois Reeves (1968-1972), Sandra Tilley (1969-1972)
  • The Del-Phis sing backup on Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind Of Fellow," "Hitch Hike," and "Pride And Joy"
  • Group is named for Van Dyke Street in Detroit and Reeves' favorite singer, Della Reese
  • "Dancing In The Street" was originally offered to Kim Weston, who turned it down
  • The 1967 smash "Jimmy Mack" was actually cut two years earlier but held back because it sounded too much like the Supremes

Awards/Honors:

  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1995)
  • Vocal Group Hall of Fame (2003)
  • Grammy Hall of Fame (1999)

Songs, Albums, and Charts:


#1 hits:
R&B:
  • "Heat Wave" (1963)
  • "Jimmy Mack" (1967)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "Heat Wave" (1963)
  • "Quicksand" (1964)
  • "Dancing In The Street" (1964)
  • "Nowhere To Run" (1965)
  • "I'm Ready For Love" (1966)
  • "Jimmy Mack" (1967)
R&B:
  • "Come And Get These Memories" (1963)
  • "Quicksand" (1964)
  • "Dancing In The Street" (1964)
  • "Nowhere To Run" (1965)
  • "I'm Ready For Love" (1966)
  • "My Baby Loves Me" (1966)
  • "Honey Chile" (1968)
Top 10 albums:
R&B:
  • Greatest Hits (1966)
Other important recordings: "In My Lonely Room," "Darling, I Hum Our Song," "Live Wire," "A Tear For The Girl," "Wild One," "Motoring," "You've Been In Love Too Long," "Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)," "What Am I Going to Do Without Your Love," "Third Finger, Left Hand," "Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone," "One Way Out," "I Promise To Wait My Love," "Forget Me Not" "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playin'," "(We've Got) Honey Love," "Bless You," "In And Out Of My Life"
Covered by: Linda Ronstadt, David Bowie and Mick Jagger, The Grateful Dead, The Mamas and The Papas, Van Halen, The Who, The Jam, The Kinks, Neil Diamond, The Walker Brothers, Laura Nyro
Appears in the movies: "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" (2002)
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