|Birth name||Martha Rose Reeves|
|Also known as||Martha LaVaille|
July 18, 1941 |
Eufaula, Alabama, U.S.
|Origin||Detroit, Michigan, U.S.|
|Genres||Pop, R&B, rock & roll, soul|
|Occupation(s)||Singer, actress, author and councilwoman|
|Instruments||Vocals, tambourine and piano|
|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. They scored over a dozen hit singles, including "Nowhere to Run", "Jimmy Mack", and their signature "Dancing In The Street". From 2005 until 2009, Reeves served as an elected council woman for the city of Detroit, Michigan.
Early life and career
Martha Rose Reeves was born in Eufaula, Alabama, the first daughter of Elijah Joshua Reeves and Ruby Lee Gilmore Reeves, and the third of the couple's 11 children. She 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. 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). Raised on gospel, and inspired by singers like Lena Horne and Della Reese, Reeves became a fan of R&B and doo-wop music. She joined the Fascinations. in 1959, but left the group before they became a recording act. Her sister Lois Reeves is also a singer, and performed with the Vandellas and Quiet Elegance.
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. The Del-Phis were popular local performers. Reeves was reportedly an admirer of the group and was a friend of Gloria Williams, who hired Reeves to join the group in 1960.
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 director 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. 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 Stevenson's right hand. (Reeves also did A&R work in addition to secretarial work for Motown.) By 1961, the Del-Phis had changed their name to The Vels and recorded unsuccessful singles for Checker and Checkmate Records. One day, when the Andantes couldn't make a session to back the Miracles' drummer on songs he was recording, Martha called her groupmates. The ladies provided backup vocals for Marvin Gaye's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow". 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. 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.
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 labelmates 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 powerful 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, Martha and the Vandellas quickly rose to become one of 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 and Rosalind Ashford, members replacing them included Betty Kelly, Sandra Tilley and Martha's youngest sister Lois Reeves. Among the singles released that became signature hits for the group are "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". 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.
Despite their success, Martha and the Vandellas were overshadowed, as Motown focused its promotional muscle behind the Supremes and the group's lead singer, Diana Ross in particular, more so than the Vandellas. Many of the group's recordings remain in the vaults of Motown.
Other issues—including that standard girl group struggles, a relentless recording and touring schedule and other matters led to a breakdown in 1968; 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 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, Reeves negotiated out of her contract with Motown, ending her 12-year association with the label.
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.
Martha released her first solo album in 1974 for MCA. 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. Performed Saturday Night Live, December 1975, season 1, episode 8, with Candice Bergman host. She later landed an acting job in the movie Fairy Tales. In 1977, with the help of former Motown producer Frank Wilson, Reeves became a born-again Baptist. She released one album on Arista, working with Clive Davis, the Chairmen of the Board's General Johnson and others, and two albums on the Fantasy label, working with other former Motown colleagues Hank Cosby and Holland, Dozier and Holland. In 1983, she 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 both on record (recording for the London-based Motorcity Records that year issuing the single "Step into My Shoes") and on tour. In 1995, Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003. Martha performed as part of the halftime show of Super Bowl XXXII in 1998. 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. She was also honored for her best-selling 1995 autobiography, Dancing in the Street.
"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. Martha also opens her live performances with this number. "Nowhere to Run" is the first record played by Robin Williams as manic DJ Adrian Cronauer in the movie "Good Morning, Vietnam".
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."
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.
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.
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). Martha Reeves is twice divorced, has one son, Eric (born 1970), and three grandchildren, all living in Detroit, Michigan.
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. 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.
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.” 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."
Reeves recently appeared on Vh-1's "Diva's celebrate Soul," singing her 1965 hit "Nowhere To Run" backed by singers Marsha Ambrosius and Sharon Jones of the Dap-Kings; on Jimmy Kimmel Live! with the Crystal Method and a stellar group of rockers including Brain from Nine Inch Nails, Rob Fortus from Guns N' Roses and Darryl Jones from the Rolling Stones, and on Dancing With the Stars with the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. That same week she was back on the music charts with a recording entitled "I'm Not Leaving" with recording artists the Crystal Method.
In January 2012, Martha held court at London's Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club with a sold out six-show stand that drew celebrity friends like Phil Collins and Boy George. Other recent appearances include Carnegie Hall, the Blue Note (Milan, Italy), the Howard Theater (Washington, DC), the Dakota Jazz Club (Minneapolis), San Diego's Anthology, and the Reno Philharmonic. In September 2012 Martha performed at the Freedom Festival, Kingston upon Hull, England.
Reeves received an honorary PhD in Humanities on November 25, 2012, in Detroit. She was slated to be among the first inductees in the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame in September 2013.
Now in her mid-seventies, Martha continues to perform throughout America and Europe.
Reeves is the mother of a son, Eric Jermel Graham, born November 10, 1970, and has been twice married and divorced. Martha has three grandchildren, Eric Jermel Jr., Loren Ashley and Elijah Joshua and recently became a great-grandmother on Friday, April 26, 2013, with the birth of Sophia Rose Graham.
- 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)
- "Power of Love" (1974) (#76 Pop; #27 R&B)
- "Wild Night" (1974) (#74 R&B)
- "Love Blind" (1975) (#61 R&B)
- "I'm Not Leaving" with Crystal Method (2012) (#24 Billboard Dance)
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- Luong, Van (June 7, 2011). "Previewing the R&B Program Line-Up by Van Luong". Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Retrieved April 15, 2013.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Martha Reeves.|
- Official website
- Martha Reeves at the Internet Movie Database
- Martha Reeves interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969)
- Motown star Martha Reeves holding 8th spot in Detroit council race
- Motown's Reeves advances to Detroit City Council general election