Martha Reeves (b. 18 July 1941, Alabama, USA), with Annette Sterling Beard, Gloria Williams and Rosalind Ashford (b. 2 September 1943), formed the Del-Phis in 1960, one of the scores of female vocal groups then operating in Detroit, Michigan, USA. After Reeves began working as a secretary at Motown Records, they were offered a one-off single release on the label’s Melody subsidiary, on which they were credited as the Vels. Gloria Williams left the group when the single flopped, but the remaining trio were allowed a second opportunity, recording ‘I’ll Have To Let Him Go’ in late 1962, when the artist for whom it had been intended, Mary Wells, failed to arrive for the session. Renamed Martha And The Vandellas, the group divided their time between backing other Motown artists and recording in their own right. They were featured on Marvin Gaye’s 1962 hit ‘Stubborn Kind Of Fellow’, before the US Top 30 success of their own release, ‘Come And Get These Memories’, brought their career as second-string vocalists to an end. Their next single, the dynamic ‘Heat Wave’, was masterminded by the Holland/Dozier/Holland production team, and epitomized the confidence and verve of the Vandellas’ finest work. ‘Quicksand’ repeated the hit formula with a US Top 10 chart placing, while it was ‘Dancing In The Street’ that represented the pinnacle of their sound. The song, co-written by Marvin Gaye and Mickey Stevenson, was an invitation to party, given added bite by the tense political situation in the black ghettos. Holland/Dozier/Holland’s production exploited all the potential of the music, using clunking chains to heighten the rhythmic feel, and a majestic horn riff to pull people to their feet. ‘Dancing In The Street’ was one of the most exciting records Motown had made, and it was a deserved number 2 hit in America. Nothing the Vandellas recorded thereafter reached quite the same peak of excitement, although not for want of trying. ‘Nowhere To Run’ in 1965 was an irresistible dance hit, which again was given political connotations in some quarters. It introduced a new group member, former Velvelettes member Betty Kelly (b. 16 September 1944), who replaced Annette Sterling Beard. This line-up scored further Top 10 hits with ‘I’m Ready For Love’ and the infectious ‘Jimmy Mack’, and celebrated Motown’s decision to give Reeves individual credit in front of the group’s name with another notable success, ‘Honey Chile’. Reeves was taken seriously ill in 1968, and her absence forced the group to disband. By 1970, she was able to resume her career, recruiting her sister Lois and another former Velvelette, Sandra Tilley, to form a new Vandellas line-up. No major US hits were forthcoming, but in Britain they were able to capitalize on the belated 1969 success of ‘Dancing In The Street’, and had several Top 30 entries in the early 70s. When Motown moved their headquarters from Detroit to Hollywood in 1972, Reeves elected to stay behind. Disbanding the group once again, she fought a lengthy legal battle to have her recording contract annulled, and was eventually free to begin an abortive solo career. Her sister Lois joined Quiet Elegance, while Sandra Tilley retired from the music business, and died in 1982. Motown retained the rights to the Vandellas’ name, but chose not to sully the memory of their early 60s hits by concocting a new version of the group without Martha Reeves.Portions of Content Provided by Rovi Corporation.
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