The Marvelettes in a 1963 promotional photo. Clockwise from top left, Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, and Wanda Young
|Birth name||Georgeanna Marie Tillman|
February 6, 1943|
Inkster, Michigan, U.S.
|Died||January 6, 1980
Inkster, Michigan, U.S.
|Genres||Doo wop, rock 'n' roll, R&B, soul, Pop|
|Associated acts||The Marvelettes, The Casinyets, The Marvels, The Darnells|
Life and career
Born and raised in the western Detroit suburb of Inkster, Michigan, Tillman was 17 when a fellow member of her high school glee club, fifteen-year-old Gladys Horton, asked her to join her unnamed singing group. After one of the members jokingly said "we can't sing yet", they became the Casinyets and the group soon featured Katherine Anderson, Juanita Cowart and Georgia Dobbins. After coming in fourth place at a high school talent contest, two of their school's teachers decided to send the group to audition for Motown despite their last place finish. The group auditioned in front of several Motown staffers singing various songs by The Shirelles and The Chantels. Though impressed, the staffers asked the group to come back with an original recording.
Georgia Dobbins later took an unfinished blues song titled "Please Mr. Postman" and rewrote it as a catchier doo-wop single. Before they returned to Motown, Dobbins opted to leave to take care of her sick mother and also partially due to the influence of her minister father in fear of her performing in nightclubs. After Horton found Wanda Young, the group returned with their own song and was quickly signed to Motown's Tamla subsidiary but not before changing their name to the Marvelettes after Motown CEO Berry Gordy claimed their original name was harder to pronounce. "Please Mr. Postman" became Motown's first number-one hit on the pop charts and their second million-seller. Tillman would sing on a total of thirteen Marvelettes singles including the follow-up hits "Twistin' Postman", "Playboy", "Beechwood 4-5789" and "Too Many Fish in the Sea" but not without the group going through some changes. In 1962, original member Juanita Cowart left due to pressures from the business and on the road leading to a nervous breakdown though it had been believed her breakdown was a result of a mistake she made when the group appeared on American Bandstand in which she mentioned that Detroit was a suburb of Inkster, rather than the other way around; Cowart continued to sing for the Marvelettes until the end of 1963. Continuing on as a quartet, Tillman soon began to have health problems and by 1963 was diagnosed with lupus, she also had been diagnosed with sickle cell anemia during childhood.
The constant rehearsals, a stringent touring schedule and recording sessions became too much by the beginning of 1965. On the advice of her doctor after she began suffering health issues during performances, Tillman told band mates she was retiring from performing and recording. Tillman officially left the Marvelettes that January with the rest of the group carrying on as a trio. Prior to this Tillman had married Billy Gordon of the popular Motown vocal group The Contours on August 12, 1963 becoming the first of the Marvelettes to marry. They have a son, Darrin Darnell, who is now in his forties.
Tillman continued to work for Motown from 1965 until 1972 as a secretary. Following Motown's official move to Los Angeles, circa 1972, Georgeanna moved back to her mother's house in Inkster, Michigan where she remained until her death from lupus and sickle cell anemia, on January 6, 1980, one month before her thirty-seventh birthday. Her body is interred in Belleville, Michigan.
- Find A Grave website