A Short Biog of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas  

Written by Cameron K
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Martha Rose Reeves was born in 1941. in Eufaula, Alabama. The oldest of 11 children to Elijah Reeves and Ruby Lee Reeves, the family moved to Detroit, Michigan,

Both parents were musical and the children acquired their love of singing form their parents. Active Christians, growing up the family were regulars at the local church choir. Martha was raised on gospel and inspired by singers like Lena Horne and Della Reese, the young teenager soon became a fan of R&B and doo-wop music.

In 1957, teenagers Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard formed a girl group called the Del-Phis, with lead singer Gloria Williams. They performed at local clubs, private events, church benefits, YMCA events and school functions until eventually they professional enough to sing background vocals, with Mike Hanks. Martha Reeves had joined the Fascinations in 1959, but left the group before they became a recording act and joined her friend Gloria Williams in The Del-Phis. In the same year, 1960, the group signed their first recording contract with Checker Records, releasing, "I'll Let You Know". The record flopped.

To make ends meet sometimes Martha Reeves worked as a solo artist and used the stage name Martha Lavaille. She was singing the blues at the Twenty Grand Club in Detroit when a Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson spotted her and left his business card. Her introduction to Motown was not as a singer, however, but as the receptionist/secretary responsible for among other things, the payroll for the Funk Brothers. Gradually she worked her way up the become an A&R assistant. When Mary Wells was unable to make a session Reeves stepped up to the mic and called in the Del-Phis. This was the beginning of The Vels and they were soon providing back-ups for Sandra Mallet (Elgins) and Marvin Gaye, (both in the studio and on stage). The Vels also recorded "There He Is (At My Door)", for Checker and Checkmate Records, (a subsidiary of Chess Records). but it failed to attract attention.

In 1962, Gordy Jr became so impressed by the group's vocals and Martha's lead vocals he offered a contract. Gloria Williams was unsure and left the group to be replaced by Martha Reeves. The remaining trio of Ashford, Beard and Reeves renamed themselves The Vandellas. Martha’s vocals helped them, transcend from background singers to main-line act, as well as distinguish them, from their labelmates the Marvelettes. It was their second release, "Come and Get These Memories", that gave the group their first US Top 40 hit.

The follow up " (Love is Like a ) Heat Wave" (1963), reached number four on the US Hot 100. This song with its backbeat and bouncing rhythms established the Motown Sound or the "Sound of Young America." It became the Vandellas first million-seller and was followed with "Quicksand", which reached number eight. Annette Beard left the group to get married and Betty Kelley (Velvettes) replaced her. The next couple of singles failed to reach the charts, but "Dancing in the Street", was a chart-topper across the globe and would become one of the most played Motown singles in history. The Vandellas were now the most popular of the Motown acts.

In 1965, "Nowhere to Run," was another top ten hit and dance favourite but the follow-up singles did less well. Then "I'm Ready for Love" (1966), saw them back in the US Top Ten again. A year later, Betty Kelley left and was replaced by Lois Reeves (Martha’s younger sister). Now Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, their 1967 release was "Jimmy Mack"/” Third finger left hand” which reached #10. The follow-up, "Honey Chile" was their last record overseen by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team before they left Motown.

The rest of the sixties were more unstable for the group, acrimony between the girls continued then Martha fell seriously ill and Rosalind Ashford left. Sandra Tilley (1946 - 1982) joined the line-up in 1969. Back in the studio, they recorded "I Should Be Proud" (1970), the first protest and anti-war song form Motown and it peaked at forty-five on the R&B singles chart. "Forget Me Not" (1971), was a song about the girls left behind waiting for their heroes to return and became a hit in the UK. "Bless You" had Martha and the Vandellas back in the grove and sold well internationally but would be their last Billboard Hot 100 hit single. The group carried on without further chart success before disbanding in 1972. Martha Reeves negotiated out of her contract with Motown, at the same time, Motown Records moved its operations to Los Angeles.

Martha Reeves signed to MCA in 1974 and released the self-titled debut album, Martha Reeves. Despite rave reviews, Martha Reeves’s post-Motown recordings were overshadowed by the group’s previous success. In 1989, Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford successfully sued Motown for back royalties. The parties finally and amicably reached a settlement in 1991. Occasionally,in the '90s Martha Reeves and the original Vandellas would reunite to record and for personal performances. Martha Reeves continues to perform concerts and club dates both solo and with her Vandellas, sisters Lois and Delphine.

Article used by Kind Permission and with thanks from ZANI




Read 2201 times Last modified on Monday, 29 July 2019 17:05
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Cameron K

Cameron K

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