Martha & the Vandellas: Wikis


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Martha and the Vandellas

Martha and the Vandellas (l-r): Rosalind Ashford, Betty Kelly and Martha Reeves in a 1966 promotional photo.
Background information
Also known as The Del-Phis, The Vels, Saundra Mallett & the Vandellas, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas
Origin Detroit, Michigan, USA
Genres R&B/soul/pop
Years active 1957 - 1972
Labels Chess
Associated acts Marvin Gaye
Former members
Martha Reeves*
Rosalind Ashford-Holmes*
Annette Beard-Helton*
Gloria Williams* (deceased)
Betty Kelly
Lois Reeves
Sandra Tilley (deceased)
*Original Members

Martha and the Vandellas (known from 1967 to 1972 as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas) were among the most successful groups of the Motown roster during the period 1963-1967. In contrast to other Motown groups such as The Supremes and The Marvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas were known for a harder, R&B sound, typified by "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave," "Nowhere to Run," "Jimmy Mack" and, their signature song, "Dancing in the Street."

During their nine-year run on the charts from 1963 to 1972, Martha and the Vandellas charted over twenty-six hits and recorded in the styles of doo-wop, R&B, pop, blues, rock and soul. Ten Vandellas songs reached the top ten of the Billboard R&B singles chart, including two R&B number ones. Twelve of the Vandellas' songs charted within the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100, with six songs charting within the Top Ten including "Dancing in the Street," "Heat Wave," "Nowhere to Run" and "Jimmy Mack."

In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked Martha and the Vandellas [1] #96 on their list of the 100 greatest artists of all time.[2]




Early years (1957–1962)

Martha Reeves, an Alabama-born and Detroit-reared teenager, was brought up in the church by her grandmother. While going to school at Detroit's southern High School, she was vocally coached by Abraham Silver, a man who also vocally coached future Supremes members Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson and Miracles member Bobby Rogers. In 1957, the sixteen-year-old Reeves joined fifteen-year-olds Gloria Williams and Rosalind Ashford and fourteen-year-old Annette Beard to form The Del-Phis. The group spent around four years performing in talent shows, high school parties and private events [3] and being trained by future Motown groomer Maxine Powell at Detroit's dance hall, the Ferris Center [3]. During group detours, Reeves formed the Sabre-Ettes and joined the Fascinations before returning back to the Del-Phis who were now recording backup for Detroit musician Mike Hanks[4].

After performing at several talent shows, the group was signed to the Chess subsidiary, Checkmate Records, with the release of the record, the Reeves-led "I'll Let You Know", which was released in 1961. Gaining some attention from Motown after the label bought Checkmate, the group, now under the name The Vels, recorded the Williams-led song "There He Is (At My Door)" while another Detroit singer, Saundra Mallett (future member of Motown group The Elgins), sung on "Camel Walk", the latter on the Tamla label. After those two singles failed to chart, Williams left the group and the group stopped recording while Reeves bided her time working at odd jobs and tended time singing solo at Detroit nightclubs trying to get noticed, usually under the pseudonym Martha LaVaille.

While performing solo at Detroit's Twenty Grand club, Reeves was asked by Motown executive and staff songwriter/producer William "Mickey" Stevenson to come to the label to audition. Reeves unexpectedly took the job of secretary at the label after showing up to audition on the wrong day. Around this time, Martha and her former Vells bandmates Ashford and Beard were recruited to perform background work for Marvin Gaye on his second album, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow. Gaye's first hit records "Stubborn Kind of Fellow", "Hitch Hike" and "Pride and Joy", prominently featured the girls.

In 1962 when Mary Wells missed a recording session to record a song Stevenson had written, he recruited Reeves to sing the song as a demo. Bringing along Ashford and Beard, the trio recorded Stevenson's "I'll Have to Let Him Go". A strong response from the song convinced Motown founder Berry Gordy to sign the Vels to another Motown subsidiary, Gordy, as a professional recording act, on September 21, 1962 [5] after which Martha changed the group's name.

The story about the name change (to Martha and the Vandellas) is a most colorful one. The Van part came from a street that neighbored Reeves' own - Van Dyke Street in Detroit [6] - and the Della part honored Della Reese, Reeves' favorite singer and a Detroit native herself.

Motown success years (1962–1967)

Following their signing to Motown's Gordy imprint in 1962, Martha and the Vandellas struck gold with their second release, the first composition and production from the famed writing team, Holland-Dozier-Holland, titled "Come and Get These Memories". It became the Vandellas' first Top 40 recording, reaching number twenty-nine on the Billboard Hot 100 and peaking at number six on the R&B chart. Their second hit, "(Love is Like a) Heat Wave," became a phenomenal record for the group, reaching number four on the Hot 100 and hitting number one on the R&B singles chart for five weeks. It became their first million-seller and eventually won the group their only Grammy Award nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group.

The group's success continued with their second Top Ten single and third Top 40 single, "Quicksand", which was another composition with Holland-Dozier-Holland and reached number eight pop in the late fall of 1963. Around that time, Beard, who was pregnant with her first child and set to get married, chose to leave her singing career behind by 1964. Betty Kelly, formerly of The Velvelettes, was brought in shortly afterward to continue the Vandellas' rise.

The next two singles, "Live Wire" and "In My Lonely Room"(#6 R&B Cashbox) were less successful singles, failing to reach the Top 40. However, their next single, "Dancing in the Street", rose up to #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and also found global success, peaking at #21 on the UK pop singles chart in 1964. In 1969, "Dancing in the Street" was re-issued and it was plugged heavily on radio stations. It didn't take long for the song to peak at #4 in the UK, thus making the song one of the all time favourite Motown single releases ever. The song became a million-seller, and one of the most played singles in history.

Between 1964 and 1967, singles like "Wild One" (US #34), "Nowhere to Run" (US #8; UK #26), "You've Been in Love Too Long" (US #36), "My Baby Loves Me" (US #22; R&B #3), "I'm Ready for Love" (US #9; R&B #2; UK #29) and "Jimmy Mack" (US #10; R&B #1; UK #21) kept the Vandellas on the map as one of the label's top acts. The Vandellas' popularity helped the group get spots on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show, American Bandstand and Shindig!. Throughout this period, the Vandellas had also become one of the label's most popular performing acts.

Personnel changes and Martha Reeves' illness

By 1968, Motown struggled to find good material for many of their acts after the exit of Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1969, and that of another Motown contributor and Reeves' mentor William "Mickey" Stevenson.

After their former collaborators jumped on a plane, the Vandellas somehow continued to find success with the Richard Morris-produced singles "Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone" (US #25; R&B #14) and "Honey Chile" (US #11; UK #30; R&B #5) added to their already extended list of charted singles. In the summer of the year, the group joined The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops and Marvin Gaye in performing at the Copacabana though much like albums from the Four Tops and Gaye, a live album of their performance there was shelved indefinitely.

That same year, label changes had started to take effect, and Motown CEO Berry Gordy focused much of his attention on building the Supremes' and Diana Ross' burgeoning upcoming solo career that would follow in the 1970. The Vandellas' sound (and the sound of many Motown acts with the exceptions of Marvin Gaye, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder) suffered as a result.

However it was the infighting amongst the members of the Vandellas that led to their problems. Betty Kelly was the first to be let go after reportedly missing shows and as well as getting into altercations with Reeves. There were many instances where these "fights" happened on stage. Kelley was fired in 1970 and was replaced by Martha Reeves' sister Lois. Simultaneously, the group's name was officially changed to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, to conform with the company's recent changes of The Supremes' and The Miracles' names to reflect their featured lead singers. During this time, Vandellas records including "(We've Got) Honey Love", "Sweet Darlin'" and "Taking My Love and Leaving Me" were issued in Martha's absence.

"Bless You" (1970–1972)

Reeves recovered and returned to the group, where Rosalind Ashford was replaced by another former member of The Velvelettes, Sandra Tilley, and the group continued to release albums and singles into the early '70s, although they couldn't reignite the fire that had made their records successful in the sixties. Among their late-sixties hits was "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playing", which featured singer Syreeta Wright singing the chorus, and peaked at number forty-two. Reeves reportedly hated singing the song sensing it "close to home". In 1970, the group issued Motown's first protest single, the controversial anti-war song , "I Should Be Proud," which peaked at a modest forty-five on the R&B singles chart. The song was uncharacteristic of The Vandellas and did nothing to promote the group. The flip-side "Love, Guess Who" proved more successful and was played instead.

In 1971, the group scored a modest international hit with the Jackson 5-esque "Bless You" (produced by the Jackson 5's producers The Corporation). The song peaked at number fifty-three on the American pop singles chart (the biggest peak of Vandellas' seventies singles), and number twenty-nine on the R&B singles chart. "Bless You" was their first UK Top 40 hit since "Forget Me Not", with the song reaching number thirty-three there. "Bless You" became top 20 hit in Canada. It was to be the last Billboard Hot 100 hit single for the group. After two successive Top 40 R&B singles, the ballad "In and Out of My Life" (#22 US R&B) and the Marvin Gaye cover, "Tear It On Down" (#37 US R&B), the group disbanded following a farewell concert, held at Detroit's Cobo Hall on December 21, 1972.

The next year, Reeves announced plans of starting her solo career. At the same time, Motown Records moved its operations to Los Angeles; when Reeves didn't want to move, she negotiated out of her deal with Motown, signing with MCA in 1974 and releasing the critically-acclaimed self-titled debut, Martha Reeves. Despite critical rave reviews of her work, neither of Reeves' post-Vandellas/Motown recordings produced the same success as they had the decade before. After living what she called "a rock & roll lifestyle" of prescription pills and alcohol, Reeves sobered up in 1977, overcoming her addictions and becoming a born-again Christian.


After the Vandellas' split, Reeves' sister Lois sang with the group Fallout Boy and also sang background for Al Green, while Tilley retired from show business in the late-'70s, suddenly dying of a brain aneurysm in 1981 at the age of thirty-nine. In 1978, Reeves and original Vandellas Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard-Sterling reunited at a Los Angeles benefit concert for actor Will Geer. In 1983, Reeves successfully sued for royalties from her Motown hits and the label agreed to have the songs credited as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas from then on. That year, Reeves performed solo at Motown 25, which alongside some of their songs being placed on the Big Chill soundtrack, helped Reeves and the Vandellas gain a new audience. In 1989, original members Ashford and Sterling also sued Motown for royalties. During this, the original trio were inspired to reunite both as a recording act and in performances. They were offered a contract with Bob Dillan at Motorcity Records and issued the group's first single since the Vandellas disbanded seventeen years before with "Step Into My Shoes". While Ashford, whose full name now is Rosalind Ashford Holmes, and Beard, whose full name now is Annette Beard-Helton, continue to perform with other singers, Martha sings with her sisters Lois and Dolphiny often performing as a solo artist under the bill, Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and still performs all over the world. From 2005 to 2009, Reeves held the eighth seat of Detroit's city council. In August, she lost her seat and told the press that she would continue on performing.

Awards and accolades

Though they didn't receive any Grammys, (they were nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave", in 1964), Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street" was inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. In 1993, the girls were awarded the Pioneer Award at the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. Except for pre-Vandellas member Gloria Williamson, all members of the group were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 becoming just the second all-female group to be inducted and were presented with the induction by rock group The B-52's, whose frothy dance music was inspired by the Vandellas [7]. They were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. Two of their singles, "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Street" were included in the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked the group #96 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.[8] In 2005, Martha & The Vandellas were inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. The group's classic recording of "Dancing In The Street" was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2008.


Regarded for their early and mid-'60s work, some of the Vandellas' popular recordings have become part of American culture with their 1964 standard, "Dancing in the Street," being the obvious example. One of the most covered and popular songs in rock & roll history, the song was revamped several times including a 1982 live recording by rock band Van Halen and a famed 1985 duet by rockers David Bowie and Mick Jagger, It is considered by many as the "Motown Anthem". Another song, 1965's "Nowhere to Run" has been featured during sports events while 1967's "Jimmy Mack" has been said to inspire what Reeves later called a "virtual legend" of the name of the song. Their smash 1963 hit, "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave," has been said to have been the first song to signify the Motown sound or "Sound of Young America" with its doo-wop call and response vocals, gospel backbeat and jazz overtones. With their aforementioned singles and subsequent others including "I'm Ready for Love" and "Honey Chile," the Vandellas inspired the huge number of black girl groups that followed them: The Emotions, Honey Cone, High Inergy, The Pointer Sisters, En Vogue and Destiny's Child .

"Dancing in the Streets" was performed more than a hundred times by the Grateful Dead since 1966.


The Del-Phis

1957 – 1961

The Vels

1961 – 1962

Martha and The Vandellas

1962 – 1964
1964 – 1967

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas

1967 – 1969
1969 – 1972


For a detailed listing of albums and singles, see Martha and the Vandellas discography

US and UK Top 40 Singles

The following singles reached the Top 40 of either the United States pop singles chart or the United Kingdom pop singles chart.

Year Song title US Hot 100 chart US Top R&B chart UK Top 40 chart
1963 "Come and Get These Memories" 29 6 -
"(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" 4 1 -
"Quicksand" 8 8 -
1964 "Live Wire" 42 * -
"In My Lonely Room" 44 * -
"Dancing in the Street" 2 * 4
"Wild One" 34 * -
1965 "Nowhere to Run" 8 5 26
"You've Been in Love Too Long" 36 25 -
"Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)" 0 22 -
1966 "My Baby Loves Me" 22 3 -
"I'm Ready for Love" 9 2 29
1967 "Jimmy Mack" 10 1 21
"Love Bug Leave My Heart Alone" 25 14 -
"Honey Chile" 11 5 30
1968 "I Promise To Wait My Love" 62 36 -
"Forget Me Not" - - 11
1971 "Bless You" 53 29 33

US Top 40 albums

Awards & recognition

  • Martha and the Vandellas were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995 becoming just the second all-female group to be inducted and the fifth group in the Motown roster to be inducted.


External links

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