Saturday, February 27, 2010
With Martha Reeves of Martha and the Vandellas at the Motown After Party
Martha Rose Reeves (born July 18, 1941 in Eufaula, Alabama) is an American R&B and soul singer and former politician, and was the lead singer of the Motown girl group Martha and the Vandellas. During her tenure with The Vandellas, they scored over a dozen hit singles, including "Jimmy Mack", "Dancing in the Street" and "Nowhere to Run". From 2005 until 2009, Reeves served as an elected councilwoman for the city of Detroit, Michigan.
Martha and the Vandellas
With her brassy and gospel-reared alto vocals, Martha Reeves helped Martha and the Vandellas ascend from background singers with early songs such as "Come and Get These Memories" and "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" distinguishing the group from contemporaries and label mates The Marvelettes and The Supremes, who were more influenced by doo-wop. Though the group's early recordings under their different monikers were doo-wop oriented, the majority of songs released under the Vandellas' name produced a rougher, soulful sound with frenetic musical backing from The Funk Brothers. Martha's alto, Rosalind Ashford's soprano and Annette Beard's contralto vocals gave their harmonies dimension and made their recordings unique. After "Heat Wave" became the group's first million-seller, the Vandellas quickly rose to become the label's top draw both as recording stars and as a successful live act. Martha was the one consistent member of the group staying throughout all the group's incarnations and lineups. After the exits of original members Annette Beard and Rosalind Ashford, members replacing them included Betty Kelly, Sandra Tilley and Martha's youngest sister Lois Reeves. Among the singles released that became signature hits for the group included "Quicksand", "In My Lonely Room", "Live Wire", "Nowhere to Run", "A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)", "I'm Ready for Love", "Jimmy Mack", "Honey Chile" and the group's most popular single, "Dancing in the Street". Martha often cites her performance highlights as one being a performance with Vandellas worshiper, Brit soul singer Dusty Springfield, on the UK show, Ready, Steady, Go! and performing on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Despite the success of the Vandellas, Martha was dismayed by Berry Gordy's decision to promote The Supremes and the group's lead singer Diana Ross in particular more so than the Vandellas. Other issues -- including group infighting (Martha often tangled with Betty Kelly), a stringent recording and touring schedule and other matters led to Reeves abusing prescription drugs and alcohol. Near the end of the decade, Reeves suffered a nervous breakdown from an acid trip and had to be institutionalized in 1969. The breakdown led to a brief disbanding of the Vandellas in which Ashford left for good. When Reeves was well enough to return, she recruited Sandra Tilley and the lineup of Martha and Lois Reeves and Tilley continued until 1972 when the group disbanded shortly after issuing the Black Magic album. In 1973, Martha planned to continue releasing solo work with Motown, but when the label moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, an angry Reeves negotiated out of her contract with Motown, ending her 12-year association with the label.