This week, Ira spoke with Martha Reeves.
Martha Reeves, who, along with the Vandellas, are performing in The Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards June 17 at The Golden Nugget Las Vegas as part of its 52 Fridays Concert Series.
It was 1962 that Motown’s Artist and Repertoire Director William “Mickey” Stevenson first heard the voice that would become synonymous with “the sound of young America.” A young jazz/blues singer with the unlikely name of “Martha Lavaille” was bringing audiences to their feet at Detroit’s famed 20 Grand Nightclub singing songs made popular by singers the likes of Gloria Lynne and Della Reese. He invited her to audition at the new Motown Records headquarters, “Hitsville, USA.”
Though the audition never happened, within a year, Martha had taken the reigns of the company’s A&R department. She saw that musicians showed up on time and got paid. She watched, learned, and whenever opportunity presented itself, she sang. And when she did, everyone took notice. When Mary Wells couldn’t make a session, Reeves was called to the mic. With her group, the Del Phi’s, she recorded “I’ll Have to Let Him Go,” and Martha and the Vandellas was born.
The song was rather forgettable, but Reeves’ sound wasn’t. While waiting for her first hit, Reeves (along with Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard) backed Marvin Gaye on his first three releases and sang with him on stage. Soon, however, they emerged from the shadows with “Come and Get These Memories,” followed by an enviable string of hits: “Heat Wave,” “Quicksand,” “In My Lonely Room,” “Nowhere to Run,” “My Baby Loves Me,”, “Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things,” “I’m Ready For Love,” “Jimmy Mack,” and, of course, the Motown anthem, “Dancing In The Street.”
After leaving Motown in 1972, Reeves continued to expand her musical horizons, establishing herself as a singer-songwriter incorporating rock, jazz, country, gospel, blues and classical. Her singing companions included everyone from the Godfather, James Brown and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen to opera diva Beverly Sills and gospel king Rance Allen. Reeves headlined a national touring company of the musical “Ain’t Misbehaving,” and for three years toured the UK in the musical revue “Dancing In The Street.”