Martha & the Vandellas In-depth Biography
Along with the Supremes}, Martha & the Vandellas} defined the distaff side of the Motown} sound in the 1960s; their biggest hits, including "Heat Wave,"} "Dancing in the Street,"} and "Nowhere to Run,"} remain among the most potent and enduring dance records of the era. The vocal group was led by Martha Reeves} who, along with fellow Detroit natives Annette Sterling Beard}, Gloria Williams}, and Rosalind Ashford}, founded the Del-Phis} in 1960. After Reeves} landed a secretarial position at the offices of Motown Records}, the Del-Phis} were tapped to record a one-off single for the label's Melody} imprint, which they cut under the name the Vels}.
The single fizzled, and Williams} exited, reducing the group to a trio. After backing Marvin Gaye} on the superb 1962 record "Stubborn Kind of Fellow,"} they were renamed Martha & the Vandellas}, taking inspiration from Detroit's Van Dyke Street and Reeves}' heroine Della Reese}. When singer Mary Wells} failed to show up for a recording date, musicians' union rules demanded that a vocalist be found to fulfill contractual obligations; as a result, Reeves} was yanked from the secretarial pool and laid down what would become Martha & the Vandellas}' first record, 1963's "I'll Have to Let Him Go."}
The Top 30 success of the ballad} "Come and Get These Memories"} brought the group the attention of Motown}'s hit-making production team Holland-Dozier-Holland}, who crafted their next smash, the galvanizing Top Five classic "Heat Wave,"} which perfected the mix of impassioned call-and-response vocals, pulsing rhythms, and full-bodied horns that became the trio's trademark. Following another Top Ten hit, "Quicksand,"} Beard} retired, and was replaced by former Velvelette} Betty Kelly}. After singer Kim Weston} turned down the Marvin Gaye}/Ivy Jo Hunter}/Mickey Stevenson} composition "Dancing in the Street,"} the song was shuttled to Martha & the Vandellas}; refashioned by Holland-Dozier-Holland} to fit the group's formula, the anthem became their biggest hit and definitive statement, reaching number two in the summer of 1964. A year later, they returned with another smash, the savage "Nowhere to Run,"} followed by "I'm Ready for Love."}
In 1967, Kelly} exited, and was replaced by Reeves}' younger sister Lois}; on subsequent releases, the group was billed as Martha Reeves & the Vandellas}. 1967's "Jimmy Mack"} and "Honey Chile"} were the last records overseen by the Holland-Dozier-Holland} team before their defection from Motown}, and were also the final significant Vandellas} hits; in 1968, Martha Reeves} fell seriously ill, and in 1969 Ashford} departed, with another former Velvelette}, Sandra Tilley}, assuming her position. The trio continued unsuccessfully for a few more years before breaking up in the wake of a December, 1972, farewell performance at Detroit's Cobo Hall}. After Motown} relocated its corporate offices to Los Angeles (a move Reeves} denied she was privy to), the singer, who had begun a solo career, sued to have her contract with the label annulled; in her 1994 autobiography, Dancing in the Street}, she charged that the Vandellas}' career, though highly successful in its own right, could have been even greater had Motown} founder Berry Gordy, Jr.} given their music the same obsessive attention he afforded to Diana Ross & the Supremes}.
Reeves} recorded her debut solo effort, Martha Reeves: Produced by Richard Perry}, for MCA} in 1974; though a few more LPs followed, including 1976's The Rest of My Life} and 1978's We Meet Again}, she received little notice on her own, and eventually suffered a pair of nervous breakdowns that led to a brief period of institutionalization. Lois Reeves}, meanwhile, went on to work with Al Green}, while Sandra Tilley} retired from music; she died in 1982 following surgery on a brain tumor. In 1989, Martha Reeves}, Annette Beard}, and Rosalind Ashford} successfully sued Motown} for back royalties, and occasionally reunited for performances in the 1990s. Reeves} also continued as a solo artist, and in addition performed with a Vandellas} unit consisting of Lois} and a third sister, Delphine}. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide