Martha & the Vandellas, along with the Supremes, characterised the distaff side of the Motown sound in the 1960s. Their biggest songs, such as “Heat Wave,” “Dancing in the Street,” and “Nowhere to Run,” are still among the most powerful and memorable dance records of all time. The singing group was led by Martha Reeves, who created the Del-Phis in 1960 with fellow Detroit residents Annette Sterling Beard, Gloria Williams, and Rosalind Ashford. After Reeves got a secretarial job at Motown Records, the Del-Phis were asked to record a one-off song for the label’s Melody imprint, which they did as the Vels.
The single faded, and Williams left, leaving the band as a trio. They were renamed Martha & the Vandellas after backing Marvin Gaye on the outstanding 1962 album “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” taking inspiration from Detroit’s Van Dyke Street and Reeves’ heroine, Della Reese. When singer Mary Wells failed to show up for a recording session, musicians’ union rules required that a replacement vocalist be recruited. As a result, Reeves was plucked from the secretarial pool and recorded “I’ll Have to Let Him Go,” Martha & the Vandellas’ first single, in 1962.
The group’s Top 30 success with the ballad “Come and Get These Memories” drew the attention of Motown’s hit-making production team Holland-Dozier-Holland, who crafted their next smash, the galvanising Top Five classic “Heat Wave,” which perfected the trio’s trademark mix of impassioned call-and-response vocals, pulsing rhythms, and full-bodied horns. Beard retired after another Top Ten song, “Quicksand,” and was replaced by former Velvelette Betty Kelly. After singer Kim Weston declined the Marvin Gaye/Ivy Jo Hunter/Mickey Stevenson composition “Dancing in the Street,” the song was reworked by Holland-Dozier-Holland to fit the group’s formula, and the anthem became their biggest hit and definitive statement, reaching number two in the summer of 1964. They returned a year later with another smash, the ferocious “Nowhere to Run,” followed by “I’m Ready for Love.”
Kelly left the group in 1967, and was replaced by Reeves’ younger sister Lois; subsequent albums labelled the group as Martha Reeves & the Vandellas. The last records overseen by the Holland-Dozier-Holland collaboration before their defection from Motown were 1967’s “Jimmy Mack” and “Honey Chile,” which were also the final important Vandellas hits.
Martha became critically ill in 1968, and Ashford left in 1969, with another former Velvelette, Sandra Tilley, taking her place. The trio lasted a few more years before disbanding after a farewell concert at Detroit’s Cobo Hall in December 1972. After Motown shifted its corporate headquarters to Los Angeles (a move Reeves claimed knowing about), the singer, who had established a solo career, filed a lawsuit to have her contract with the label terminated. In her 1994 autobiography, Dancing in the Street, she said that the Vandellas’ career, while immensely successful in its own right, could have been even more so if Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr. had given their music the same obsessive attention he gave to Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Martha Reeves, her debut solo album, was released by MCA in 1974. Though she released a few more albums, including 1976’s The Rest of My Life and 1978’s We Meet Again, she gained little attention on her own and finally experienced a pair of nervous breakdowns that resulted in a brief spell of institutionalisation. Meanwhile, Lois Reeves went on to perform with Al Green, while Sandra Tilley resigned from music and died in 1982 after undergoing brain tumour surgery. Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford successfully sued Motown for back royalties in 1989, and reunited for performances throughout the 1990s. Reeves continued to perform as a solo artist and with a Vandellas unit that included Lois and a third sister, Delphine. In 2004, she released her second solo album, the independent Home to You. She served in the Detroit City Council from 2005 to 2009. She later joined a non-profit organisation that assists musicians in receiving royalties, and she remained an active performer with the Vandellas.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Where Did The Name Martha And The Vandellas Come From?
The name Martha and the Vandellas was inspired by Van Dyke Parks, a well-known Detroit musician. The group’s first hit single, “Come and Get These Memories”, was written by Motown’s main songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Where Is Martha And The Vandellas From?
Martha and the Vandellas were a Motown singing group who rose to prominence in the 1960s with a string of hit singles, including “Dancing in the Street”, which became a major hit in 1964.
What Is Martha And The Vandellas Most Popular Song?
The most popular song by Martha and the Vandellas is “Dancing in the Street”. The song was released in 1964 and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. It has since been covered by numerous artists and is considered to be a classic Motown song.