Martha and the Vandellas
(known from 1967 to 1972 as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
) were an American vocal group who found fame in the 1960s with a string of hit singles on Motown's Gordy label. Founded in 1960 by friends Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams, the band eventually included Martha Reeves, who moved up in ranks as lead vocalist of the group after Williams' departure in 1962. The group signed with and eventually recorded all of their singles for Motown's Gordy imprint.The group's string of hits included "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave", "Nowhere to Run", "Jimmy Mack", "Bless You" and "Dancing in the Street", the latter song becoming their signature single. 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 roll and soul. Ten Vandellas songs reached the top ten of the Billboard
R&B singles chart, including two R&B number ones.Early years (1957–1962)Teenagers Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard first became acquainted after a local music manager hired them to be members of a girl group he named The Del-Phis
. Ashford & Beard, along with then-lead vocalist Gloria Williams, performed at local clubs, private events, church benefits, YMCA events and school functions. They were also being coached by Maxine Powell at Detroit's Ferris Center. One of the group's first professional engagements was singing background for singer Mike Hanks. The group originally had up to six members, shortened to four. After another member left the group, she was replaced by Alabama-born vocalist Martha Reeves, who had been a member of a rival group, the Fascinations and had also been a member of another group, the Sabre-Ettes. In 1960, the group signed their first recording contract with Checker Records, releasing the Reeves-led "I'll Let You Know". The record flopped. The group then recorded for Checkmate Records, a subsidiary of Chess Records, recording their first take of "There He Is (At My Door)". That record, featuring Williams on lead vocals, also flopped.Briefly separated, Reeves returned to a solo career performing under the name Martha LaVaille, in hopes of getting a contract with emerging Detroit label Motown. After Motown staffer Mickey Stevenson noticed Reeves singing at a prominent Detroit club, he offered her his business card for an audition. Reeves showed up at Motown on a wrong date (Motown auditions were held at Thursdays, while Reeves showed up to Motown's Hitsville USA studios on a Tuesday). Stevenson, initially upset, told Reeves to look out for clients and other matters. Soon Reeves became Stevenson's secretary and later was responsible for helping acts audition for the label. By 1961, the group, now known as The Vels
, were recording background vocals for Motown acts. Prior to her success as lead singer of The Elgins, Sandra Edwards (then going by her surname Maulett) recorded the song "Camel Walk", in 1962, which featured the Vels in background vocals. That year, the quartet began applying background vocals for emerging Motown star Marvin Gaye, singing on Gaye's first hit single, "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" After Mary Wells failed to make a scheduled recording session feigning a short illness, the Vels recorded what was initially a demo recording of "I'll Have to Let Him Go". Motown was so impressed by the group's vocals – and Martha's lead vocals in the song – that the label CEO Berry Gordy offered to give the group a contract. Figuring that being in show business was too rigorous, Williams opted out of the group. With Williams out, the remaining trio of Ashford, Beard and Reeves renamed themselves The Vandellas
, Barry Gordy phoning down and telling the girls what their name would be after giving them a chance to name themselves.
Motown success years (1962–1967)
Following their signing to Motown's Gordy imprint in 1962, 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, Annette, who was pregnant with her first child and set to get married, chose to leave her singing career behind by 1964. Betty Kelley, 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 Singles Chart in 1964. In 1969, "Dancing in the Street" was re-issued and it was plugged heavily on radio stations. It did not 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
. Throughout this period, The Vandellas had also become one of the label's most popular performing acts.