Martha Reeves

Martha Reeves

Reeves at Berns in Stockholm, Sweden, 2011
Background information
Birth name Martha Rose Reeves
Also known as Martha LaVaille
Born July 18, 1941 (1941-07-18) (age 70)[1]
Eufaula, Alabama, U.S.[1]
Origin Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Genres Pop, R&B, rock & roll, soul
Occupations Singer, actress, author and councilwoman
Instruments Vocals, tambourine and piano
Years active 1959–present
Labels Motown, MCA, Arista, Fantasy, True Life Entertainment, Ideal Entertainment
Associated acts The Sabre-Ettes, The Fascinations, The Delphis,The Vels, Martha and the Vandellas

Martha Rose Reeves (born July 18, 1941 in Eufaula, Alabama) is an American R&B and Pop singer and former politician, and was the lead singer of the Motown girl group Martha and the Vandellas. During her tenure with The Vandellas, they scored over a dozen hit singles, including "Jimmy Mack", "Dancing in the Street" and "Nowhere to Run". From 2005 until 2009, Reeves served as an elected councilwoman for the city of Detroit, Michigan.[2]



Early life and career

She was born in Eufaula, Alabama, the first daughter of Elijah Joshua Reeves and Ruby Lee Gilmore, and the third of the couple's 11 children. Martha was under a year old when the family moved from Eufaula to Detroit, Michigan, where her grandfather, Reverend Elijah Reeves, was a minister at Detroit's Metropolitan Church. The family was very active in the church and its choir. Both Elijah and Ruby played guitar and liked to sing; the children acquired their love of music from their parents.[3][4][5][6] At Detroit's Northeastern High School, her vocal coach was Abraham Silver, who also worked with Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson (of The Supremes) and Bobby Rogers (of The Miracles).[3][4][6] As a teenager, Reeves became a fan of R&B and doo-wop music. After failing to join her elder brother Benny's vocal group, Reeves formed her own vocal group, the Sabre-Ettes in 1958. A year later, she joined The Fascinations.[4] Reeves left the group before they became a recording act.

1957 was her first association with Rosalind Ashford, Gloria Williams and Annette Beard in a group then known The Del-Phis, formed after a man named Edward "Pops" Larkins was starting a sister singing group to complement a male vocal group of his.[1] The Del-Phis were popular local performers.[3] Reeves was reportedly an admirer of the group and was a friend of Gloria Williams, who hired Reeves to join the group in 1960.[citation needed]

Through 1960 and 1961, Reeves made ends meet working several jobs by day and worked as a singer in nighttime hours singing jazz and blues standards at some of Detroit's respected nightclubs. After a performance at Twenty Grand Club, Reeves was spotted by Motown A&R staffer Mickey Stevenson, who gave the singer, who was then going by the unusual surname LaVaille as her stage name, his business card for a possible audition.[4] Since Reeves didn't know the protocol of Motown's auditions, Reeves said she showed up to Motown's Hitsville USA studios the following day, and was apprehended by Stevenson for showing up earlier than expected. Motown held auditions for Thursday - Reeves had showed up on a Tuesday. Reeves was then told to look after Stevenson's appointments while Stevenson went on a break.

Before long, Reeves was working several hours at Hitsville as a secretary of Stevenson's. (Reeves also did A&R work in addition to secretarial work for Motown.[3][5][7][8]) It was there that Reeves first became acquainted with another emerging singer - Diana Ross. While Ross and her group The Supremes (formerly the Primettes) were struggling to find success, Ross found work as Berry Gordy's secretary. The two would later become professional rivals as both their groups would rise on the charts. By 1961, the Del-Phis had changed their name to The Vels[4][6] and recorded unsuccessful singles for Checker and Checkmate Records. Using her secretarial powers, Reeves soon hired her band mates in the Vels to fill in background vocal session work for artists such as a pre-Elgins Sandra Edwards.[3] In the summer of 1962, the group recorded background vocals for Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow".[4][9] The single became a hit.

After recording what was initially a demo for Mary Wells, Motown offered the group a recording contract. Before they could sign, Gloria Williams opted to leave the group for a life as a public social worker. Choosing to remain a trio, the group changed their name to Martha and the Vandellas.[1] Reeves' changing of the group's name was due to her living on Detroit's Van Dyke street as a child and for honoring Detroit R&B vocalist Della Reese, who was Reeves' idol.[1][2]

Martha and the Vandellas

With her brassy and gospel-reared alto vocals, Martha Reeves helped Martha and the Vandellas ascend from background singers with early songs such as "Come and Get These Memories" and "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" distinguishing the group from contemporaries and label mates The Marvelettes and The Supremes, who were more influenced by doo-wop. Though the group's early recordings under their different monikers were doo-wop oriented, the majority of songs released under the Vandellas' name produced a rougher, soulful sound with frenetic musical backing from The Funk Brothers. Martha's alto, Rosalind Ashford's soprano and Annette Beard's contralto vocals gave their harmonies dimension and made their recordings unique.

After "Heat Wave" became the group's first million-seller, the Vandellas quickly rose to become the label's top draw both as recording stars and as a successful live act. Martha was the one consistent member of the group staying throughout all the group's incarnations and lineups. After the exits of original members Annette Beard[10] and Rosalind Ashford, members replacing them included Betty Kelly, Sandra Tilley and Martha's youngest sister Lois Reeves.[4] Among the singles released that became signature hits for the group included "Quicksand", "In My Lonely Room", "Live Wire", "Nowhere to Run", "A Love Like Yours (Don't Come Knocking Everyday)", "I'm Ready for Love", "Jimmy Mack", "Honey Chile" and the group's most popular single, "Dancing in the Street".[11] Martha often cites her performance highlights as one being a performance with Vandellas worshiper, Brit soul singer Dusty Springfield, on the UK show, Ready, Steady, Go! and performing on the Ed Sullivan Show.[12][13]

Despite the success of the Vandellas, Martha was dismayed by Berry Gordy's decision to promote The Supremes and the group's lead singer, Diana Ross in particular, more so than the Vandellas.[4][14] Many of the group's recordings remain in the vaults of Motown.[15]

Other issues—including group infighting (Reeves often fought with Betty Kelly), a stringent recording and touring schedule and other matters led to substance abuse.[4][8] Reeves suffered a nervous breakdown after a bad acid trip in 1968;[16] this led to a brief disbanding of the Vandellas which Ashford left for good. When Reeves was well enough to return, she recruited Sandra Tilley[5] and the lineup of Martha and Lois Reeves and Tilley continued until 1972 when the group disbanded shortly after issuing the Black Magic album. In 1973, Martha planned to continue releasing solo work with Motown, but when the label moved from Detroit to Los Angeles, an angry Reeves negotiated out of her contract with Motown, ending her 12-year association with the label.[17][18]

In 1989, Martha, Rosalind Ashford, and Annette Beard filed a lawsuit against Motown Records for royalties on the group's records not received since 1972. The company reached a settlement with the women in 1991. While Berry Gordy, Jr. apologized to Reeves for the length of time in reaching the agreement, the terms of the settlement were not made public.[4][8]

Solo career

Martha released her first solo album in 1974 for MCA.[4] The self-titled album, produced by Richard Perry, was reportedly the most expensive album of that time, costing $250,000. Featuring the singles, "Power of Love" and "Wild Night", the album was a critically favored smash, though it failed to generate commercial success as did Reeves' subsequent follow-ups on other labels including Arista and Fantasy.[15] She later landed an acting job in the movie Fairy Tales.[19] In 1977, with the help of good friend David Pesnell, Reeves ended her long bout of drug and alcohol addiction and became a born-again Baptist.[8] Recently, Reeves has denied that she had any addiction to anything whatsoever.[20] After one more album in 1980, Reeves semi-retired from the spotlight though she continued to perform onstage, usually as an oldies act, while Pesnell continued to help her by promoting her concerts, but never taking a fee for doing so. In 1983, she performed solo on the famed Motown 25 special.[21] She then performed in a Broadway production of Ain't Misbehavin' and reunited with original members of the Vandellas in 1989 both on record (recording for the London-based Motorcity Records that year issuing the single "Step into My Shoes") and on tour. Pesnell and Reeves ended their business relationship in 1989 due to his lack of desire to proceed with a concert tour after she had cancelled the previous one for no apparent reason. Further complicating the relationship was that Pesnell's wife, a major songwriter and producer at the time, did not get along with Martha; she and her writing partner, William Zimmerman, refused to pen songs for her.[citation needed] In 1995, Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame[22][23] and were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003.[2] Martha performed as part of the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXII in 1998.[24] In 2004, Reeves released her first album in 24 years, Home to You, with recordings she had written and produced herself except for a Billie Holiday cover and an updated version of her big hit, "Jimmy Mack". Between leaving the Vandellas and her solo career, Martha served as an early contributor to the music newspaper, Soul, for which she was honored for by the Black Women in Publishing organization.[citation needed] She was also honored for her best-selling 1995 autobiography, Dancing in the Street.[25]

"Wild Night" was featured on the soundtrack to the movie Thelma & Louise; the song can be heard during one of the several crucial moments in the lead characters' lives.[26] Martha also opens her live performances with this number.[15] "Nowhere to Run" is the first record played by Robin Williams as manic DJ Adrian Cronauer in the movie "Good Morning Vietnam".

Current work

After serving on the Detroit City Council from 2005 to 2009, Reeves returned to full-time performing with nearly 50 shows in 2010, including a major tour of Australia. She appeared at several festivals in England during the summer, and for her performances was nominated for two UK Festival Awards, as "Best Headliner" and "Feel Good Act of the Summer."[citation needed]

Reeves is a member of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority.[citation needed]

Reeves is a board member of AFTRA Detroit chapter. In 2007, she testified before Congress on behalf of musicians, session singers and recording artists for better wages and royalties. She was honored for her hard work and courage in 2007 by delegates and members of AFTRA. She is also on the board of SoundExchange, a non-profit performance rights organization that collects royalties on behalf of sound recording copyright owners and featured artists for non-interactive digital transmissions, including satellite and internet radio.[citation needed]

She made a cameo appearance in the film Tenacious D in The Pick of Destiny, as a passer-by listening to the duo on the boardwalk. This information was revealed in the film's DVD audio commentary DVD by Kyle Gass.[citation needed]

Martha continues to perform concerts and club dates both solo and with her Vandellas—sisters Lois (Motown-era Vandella since 1967) and Delphine (since mid 1980s).[2] Martha Reeves is twice divorced, has one son, Eric (b. 1970),[6][8] and three grandchildren, all living in Detroit, Michigan.[4][5]

Motown Records celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2009 with a party, "Bop to the Ballroom", on November 20, 2009 at the Roostertail in Detroit. Martha was among the Motown stars who enjoyed the celebration.[27][28] She is also a part of the yet to be released documentary Marvin Gaye's sister made about her brother's life, My Brother Marvin.[29]

In July 2010, Reeves returned to the studio and recorded new tracks by Swedish producer Soren Jensen and her long-time musical director, Al McKenzie. She was recently asked how long she would continue as a performer; Reeves replied, “I’m going to sing as long as I’m able; I’m going to dance as long as I can. And age 69 feels real good.”[2] She also recently expressed dismay at the state of current pop music, saying, "We didn't have to send our children out of the room when we were with Motown. Our songs have always been about love, happiness, joy and partying."[30]

Martha Reeves headlined at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. on July 1 as part of the R&B Program:



  • 1973: Willie Dynamite Soundtrack (MCA Records)
  • 1974: Martha Reeves (MCA)
  • 1975: Rainbow (Phonarama)
  • 1977: For the Rest of My Life (Arista)
  • 1978: We Meet Again (Fantasy)
  • 1980: Gotta Keep Moving (Fantasy)
  • 2004: Home To You (Itch/True Life Entertainment)


  1. "Power of Love" (1974) (#76 Pop; #27 R&B)
  2. "Wild Night" (1974) (#74 R&B)
  3. "Love Blind" (1975) (#61 R&B)


  1. ^ a b c d e "Martha and the Vandellas Biography". Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Kroll, Vicki L. (31 August 2010). "Motown Legend to sing at Music Fest". University of Toledo. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "Martha Reeves". Archived from the original on 2008-05-10. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l "Martha and the Vandellas". Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Martha Reeves". General Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  6. ^ a b c d "Martha Reeves". NNDB. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  7. ^ "Show 26 - The Soul Reformation: Phase two, the Motown story. [Part 5] : UNT Digital Library". 1969-06-22. Retrieved 2010-12-17. 
  8. ^ a b c d e "Martha Reeves". Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  9. ^ Martha and the Vandellas. Ebony. February 1968. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  10. ^ Warner, Jay, ed (2006). American Singing Groups: A History, From 1940 to Today. Hal Leonard. p. 584. ISBN 0634099787. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  11. ^ Martha Reeves Without the Vandellas. Ebony. February 1988. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  12. ^ Randall, Annie J. (2005). "Dusty Springfield and the Motown Invasion". Institute for Studies In American Music. Retrieved 24 December 2010. 
  13. ^ "Ed Sullivan Show Episode 19.13". IMDB. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  14. ^ Gaar, Gillian G., ed (2002). She's a Rebel: The History of Women in Rock and Roll (Live Girls). Seal Press. p. 496. ISBN 1580050786. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  15. ^ a b c "Martha Reeves". IMDB. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  16. ^ Huey, Steve. "Martha Reeves". Article in All Music Guide To Soul: The Definitive Guide To R&B And Soul. Milwaukee, WI: Hal Leonard Corporation. p. 571
  17. ^ Martha Reeves Quits Vandellas To Go Solo. Jet. 15 February 1973. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  18. ^ Singer Martha Reeves Leaves Motown Records. Jet. 29 March 1973. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  19. ^ "Fairy Tales". IMDB. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  20. ^ “” (2010-09-26). "Martha Reeves Opens Up About Addictions and Political Corruption In Detroit". YouTube. Retrieved 2010-12-17. 
  21. ^ "Motown 25:Yesterday, Today, Forever". IMDB. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  22. ^ "Martha and the Vandellas Biography". Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  23. ^ Al Green, Martha and the Vandellas Inducted Into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame During Gala Ceremonies in New York City. Jet. 30 January 1995. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  24. ^ Gregory, Andy, ed (2002). International who's who in popular music. Europa Publications. p. 637. ISBN 1857431618. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  25. ^ Reeves, Martha; Bego, Mark, eds (1995). Dancing in the Street. Hyperion. p. 286. ISBN 0786880945. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  26. ^ "Thelma and Louise". IMDB. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  27. ^ "Motown Alumni Reception and Bop to Ballroom". Hour Detroit. 20 November 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  28. ^ "Photo-Martha Reeves with Maxine Powell". Hour Detroit. 20 November 2009. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  29. ^ "My Brother Marvin". IMDB. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 
  30. ^ "Martha Reeves Not Impressed With Today's No. 1 Singles". 26 November 2010. Retrieved 16 December 2010. 

External links

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