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Fri, 07.18.1941

Martha Reeves, a Motown Icon

Martha Reeves

Martha Reeves was born on this date in 1941. She is an African American singer, was a city council member, and the lead singer of Martha & the Vandellas.

Born in Eufaula, Alabama, Martha Rose Reeves is the eldest of 11 children born to Elijah Joshua and Ruby Lee Gilmore Reeves. The Reeves family moved to Detroit right after she was born. She was brought up in the church, since her grandfather was a minister at Detroit's Metropolitan Church. She went to Northeastern High School, where she was vocally coached by Abraham Silver.

After graduating from high school, she sang often and joined a group with friends Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard, and Gloria Williamson to form the Del-Phis in 1960. The group struggled although Reeves was discovered by Motown's A&R man, William "Mickey" Stevenson, and asked to an audition that accidentally landed her a job as a Motown's secretary.  Often Reeves and her friends from the Del-Phis (now known as the Vells) sang background for Marvin Gaye's first hit records, "Stubborn Kind of Fellow," "Hitch Hike," and "Pride & Joy."

An opportunity to record occurred after Motown's Mary Wells failed to show up for a session and Stevenson asked Reeves to do the song titled "I'll Have to Let Him Go." Eventually recruiting her friends Ashford and Beard, the record became the first record by the newly-christened Martha and the Vandellas in the fall of 1962. As lead singer, Reeves was responsible for some of the most up-tempo singles to come out of the label including the top hits, "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" (1963), "Live Wire," "Wild One," "Dancing in the Street," and "Nowhere to Run".

Between 1963 and 1967, and only second to Diana Ross and The Supremes, Reeves became one of the top-selling hit makers of the label helping to carry both the Motown sound and the girl group sound into 1967 with such hits such as "I'm Ready for Love," "Jimmy Mack," and "Honey Chile." By 1968, however, the Vandellas' success streak had weakened after several lineup changes and Reeves' reported addictions to prescription drugs, which resulted in several nervous breakdowns. She briefly entered an institution to recover in 1969. Returning to the Vandellas in 1970, the group released "Bless You" in 1971, and in 1972, they released their last record, "Tear It On Down."

Reeves announced a solo career in 1973 but after Motown had moved their offices to Los Angeles, she negotiated to get released from the label. She was said to have been close with Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks.  Reeves released her first solo album in 1974 for MCA.

In 1977, Reeves ended her long bout of drug addiction and became a born-again Baptist. After one more album in 1980, Reeves semi-retired from the spotlight and in 1983, she successfully sued Motown for back royalties yet performed solo on the famed Motown 25 special. She then performed in a Broadway production of "Ain't Misbehavin'" and reunited with original members of the Vandellas in 1989.

In 1995, Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and eight years after that were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2004, Reeves released her first album in 24 years with "Home to You."

In 2005, Reeves ran for and won a seat on the Detroit City Council. Reeves said she was running for the "youths of the city" and for adequate policing of the neighborhoods.  One of her ideas to boost Detroit's economy was a series of downtown statues of such Motown figures as Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.

Reeves was a vocal critic of landlords that own decaying property. However, in 2006, the Detroit News reported that she was the owner of at least 15 lots and two rental properties in Detroit.  According to city, county, and court records Reeves owned properties that have been cited for 25 code violations that have never been repaired and one of her houses had to be razed, at a cost to the city of $5,000.

She continues to perform concerts under the bill Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas with sisters Lois and Delphine Reeves.  Reeves is twice divorced, has one son, Eric, and three grandchildren all living in Detroit.  In 2007, Reeves returned to the Old Motown Studio in Detroit to sing "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" with Australian group Human Nature for their Get Ready album.

On June 25, 2019, The New York Times Magazine listed Martha Reeves among hundreds of artists whose material was reportedly destroyed in the 2008 Universal fire.  In 2019 Martha was one of the celebrity contestants taking part on BBC One show Celebrity MasterChef in the UK.

Reference:
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