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Profile: Mary Wells

By

Mary Wells

Mary Wells

source: myspace.com

Born:

Mary Esther Wells, May 13, 1943, Detroit, MI; d. July 26, 1992, Los Angeles, CA

Genres:

Motown, Pop-soul, Soul, R&B, Girl Group

Instruments:

Vocals

Contributions to music:

  • Motown's first big star, essential to the label's eventual success
  • The epitome of the solo "girl group"-era female singer
  • Her sultry yet virtuous persona was a welcome change in pop music sung by females
  • A talented songwriter in her own right, and vocalist of many styles
  • A crucial early-Sixties link between pop and soul

Early years:

Like many Detroit natives of her time, Mary entered her profession of choice early, performing in clubs as early as age ten (!). At the tender age of 17, she'd already written a song, a belter called "Bye Bye Baby," which she presented to Berry Gordy, then stewarding Jackie Wilson's career, as a possible single for him. Without a recording, however, she had to sing it herself -- and Gordy immediately signed her to his fledgling Motown label, where the song became an R&B hit in 1961. By the following year, however, the two were finding that success hard to replicate -- and the label was in dire need of national hits.

Success:

In one of many flashes of genius, Gordy then handed Wells over to Snokey Robinson, who toned Wells' gritty style down a bit and groomed her into the sort of pop-soul diva, using a formula Gordy would later work on Diana Ross and Tammi Terrell. "The One Who Really Loves You," "You Beat Me To The Punch," and the winkingly deceptive "Two Lovers" soon followed from his pen and her throat. All were smashes. In 1964, her biggest hit, "My Guy," went to #1, proving that Motown could withstand the British Invasion. Wells also became Marvin Gaye's first duet partner, setting yet another precedent for the label.

Later years:

When she turned 21, Wells, like many other Motown acts, suddenly became a free agent, lured by the promise of other, better-funded labels. 20th-Century Fox soon signed the star, promising her, among other things, a lucrative movie career. But that never panned out, and aside from 1966's "Dear Lover," she never had another Top Ten R&B hit. In 1990, Wells developed cancer of the larynx, forcing her final retirement and bringing several superstar fans out of the woodwork to help with her medical bills. Mary Wells died of pneumonia in 1992, her immune system seriously weakened by the growth.

Other facts:

  • Suffered from a bout of spinal meningitis as a very young child that left her unable to see, walk or hear for several years
  • The Beatles were huge fans and invited her to open for them on their 1964 European tour, establishing a fan base there that remains to this day
  • Wells' "My Guy" became the song to finally break through the Beatles' famous monopoly of the Top Five in May of 1964
  • It was rumored that Berry Gordy encouraged radio stations not to play Wells' newer songs after she left Motown
  • Was married to Cecil Womack, brother of R&B singer Bobby Womack
  • Testified before Congress in 1991 for more cancer research funding

Awards/Honors:

  • GRAMMY Hall of Fame (1989)
  • The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll (1995)

Recorded work:

#1 hits:
Pop:
  • "My Guy" (1964)
R&B:
  • "You Beat Me To The Punch" (1962)
  • "Two Lovers" (1963)
  • "My Guy" (1964)
Top 10 hits:
Pop:
  • "The One Who Really Loves You" (1962)
  • "You Beat Me To The Punch" (1962)
  • "Two Lovers" (1963)
R&B:
  • "Bye Bye Baby" (1961)
  • "I Don't Want To Take A Chance" (1961)
  • "The One Who Really Loves You" (1962)
  • "Laughing Boy" (1963)
  • "What's Easy For Two Is So Hard For One" (1963)
  • "You Lost The Sweetest Boy" (1963)
  • "Your Old Standby" (1963)
  • "Dear Lover" (1966)
Other popular recordings: "Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right," "Strange Love," "Old Love (Let's Try It Again)," "Operator," "Goodbye And Good Luck," "What Love Has Joined Together," "Oh Little Boy (What Did You Do To Me)," "Once Upon A Time," "Whisper You Love Me Boy," "I'll Be Available," "When I'm Gone," "Stop Right There," "Ain't It The Truth," "Stop Takin' Me For Granted," "What's The Matter With You Baby," "He's A Lover," "Me Without You," "Never, Never Leave Me," "Use Your Head," "Never Steal Anything Wet," "Can't You See (You're Losing Me)," "Such A Sweet Thing," "The Doctor," "Dig The Way I Feel," "Gigolo"
Covered by: Petula Clark, Eurythmics, LaToya Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, The Shangri-Las, The Supremes, Sister Sledge, Tracey Ullman, Steve Goodman, Edwin Starr, Tony Jackson, The Temptations
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