Martha Reeves & The Vandellas
Upon graduation from high school, Martha joined several girls groups and performed locally as an amateur where and whenever the opportunity arose. She did it for the experience and most of the time just for the fun of it.
Being the oldest girl of eleven children, Martha took a chance at several jobs, non-musical, to earn her keep. She went to a local nightclub on occasion and after auditioning, landed a job singing there on the weekends under the guise of Martha "Mickey" Lavaille. After hearing Martha sing, William Stevenson, A & R Director of "Hitsville U.S.A." approached Martha and suggested she come to work for him. Martha worked as a secretary in the A & R department until the audition date arrived. Martha had more or less gotten discouraged after recording several releases on the "Check-Mate" label with the "Del-phi's" (soon to be the Vandellas). The girls were already working at other jobs, but Martha was glad to leave the cleaners job she had to join Motown Records. They reunited to sing back-up for Marvin Gaye on his first "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" album.
Like many soul singers, Martha's musical roots were gospel, and she sang in church on many occasions. With her brothers, she would imitate great artists like the Soul Stirrers, the Caravans, the Five Blind Boys, and Clara Ward. Her major influences, along with various blues artists such as Bobby Bland, Ray Charles and B.B. King, were Dinah Washington, Lena Horn, Yuma Sumac, Morgana King, Nancy Wilson, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn.
At Hitsville U.S.A., Martha spoke to all of the artists on a daily basis. She ignored chances to audition, mainly because she was busy typing, filing, and writing. Instead she held auditions for other artists, selecting up and coming stars. She also sang background and lead on the Producers Demonstration tapings for their evaluations. A long list of hits have been accredited to her bosses, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Eddie Holland, Andre Williams, Stephen Judkins (Stevie Wonder), Norman Whitfield, Berry Gordy, Bill ("Smokey") Robinson, Freddie Gorman, Bobble Saunders, Robert Bateman, and Clarence Pauling. She was their assistant in whatever area they needed in recording and filing musical history in the A & R Department.
Berry Gordy, after being asked his opinion of a demo record Martha had sung for Williams Stevenson, became interested in her talents. The group's name changed to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, as she was featured solely as lead for the group. The song entitled, "I'll Have To Let Him Go", began the group's string of hits. Their next single, "Come and Get These Memories" marked the marriage of the Holland-Dozier-Holland writing team (known for million sellers for the Supremes, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, and Marvin Gaye).
There were several changes in the Vandellas group; Betty Kelley replaced original member Annette Sterling, and in 1967, Sandra Tilley (now deceased) replaced Rosalind Ashford. Lois Reeves (Martha's sister) joined the group in 1966 after graduating high school replacing Betty Kelley.
Martha currently resides with her son Eric, in Detroit where it all began, after living twelve years in Los Angeles. Since Motown records, she has had solo albums between her live performances all over the world. Richard Perry of Planet Records produced the first one in 1973 on MCA Records. Arista released "The Rest of My Life", an album with various producers. In 1979, Fantasy Records released "We Meet Again" and in 1981, "Gotta' Keep Moving.
Lois Reeves still travels and performs with Martha as well as original Vandellas, Rosalind Holmes and Annette Sterling. Martha continues to perform live and recently made an appearance on "The Joan Rivers Show". in addition, Martha sang a duet of "Georgia On My Mind" with the legendary James Brown on the new "Dennis Miller Show". In addition to raising her son, she finds time to correspond with worldwide pen pals, always keeping them aware of her career moves and next engagements. Show business is her life and success is her goal as she continues traveling and performing such hits as "Love is Like a Heatwave", "Jimmy Mack", "Come and Get These Memories", "Nowhere To Run", "Ready For Love", and "Dancing in the Street".
The love movement, the flower children of the Sixties, the dance craze generation, all music lovers in the United States and abroad accredit Martha Reeves and the Vandellas as a great influence on musical history as well as a big part of Detroit history.