|Born||November 3, 1930|
|Origin||Bastrop, Louisiana, U.S.|
|Genres||Blues, R&B, gospel|
|Oral History, Mable John shares stories about her brother and the beginning of their touring career. Interview date March 13, 2003, NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Oral History Library|
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John was born in Bastrop, Louisiana. At a very young age, she and her parents moved to north across the state-line into Arkansas where her father got a job in a paper mill near the community of Cullendale. There, four brothers (including R&B singer Little Willie John) and two sisters were born.
In 1941, after her father was able to secure a better job, the family moved to Detroit, where two additional brothers were born. The family lived in a new housing development at Six Mile and Dequindre Road. She attended Cleveland Intermediate School, and then Pershing High School, which is at Seven Mile and Ryan Road. After graduating from Pershing High School, she took a job as an insurance representative at Friendship Mutual Insurance Agency, a company run by Berry Gordy's mother, Bertha.
Later, she left the company and spent two years at Lewis Business College. She subsequently ran into Mrs. Gordy again, who told Mable that her son Berry was writing songs and was looking for people to record them. Gordy began coaching her and would accompany John on piano at local engagements. This continued until 1959, when John performed at the Flame Show bar on John R Street at the last show that Billie Holiday did in Detroit, just weeks before Holiday's death.
The same year, John began recording for Gordy. First she was signed to United Artists, but nothing was released there. Eventually, she became one of the first artists signed to Tamla, Gordy's own label.
In 1960, she released her first Tamla single, "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That?," a romantic blues number, to no success. John followed with "No Love" in June of that year and then with "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" by year's end. While Motown was beginning to have success with acts like The Miracles and The Marvelettes (and later The Supremes, who had sung background vocals for John) that appealed to teenagers and young adults, it failed to make an impact in the established blues market. As a result, Gordy soon thinned out his roster of early blues artists. While John continued to be used as a background singer, Gordy dissolved her contract in 1962.
After leaving Motown, John spent several years as a Raelette, backing many Ray Charles hits. In 1966 she attempted a solo career again, signing with Stax Records. Her first single with the label was "Your Good Thing Is About To End." The song peaked at #6 on the R&B chart, and even managed to cross over onto pop radio, peaking at #95 there. She released six more singles for the label, none of which captured her first single's success. After leaving Stax Records in 1968, John rejoined The Raelettes for several years. She left secular music in 1973, and began managing Christian gospel acts, occasionally returning to the studio as a singer.
In 1986, John founded a charity that feeds the homeless in Los Angeles, Joy Community Outreach. In 1993, John earned a Doctor of Divinity degree from the south Los Angeles ministry Crenshaw Christian Center.
John received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994. She appeared in John Sayles' 2007 movie Honeydripper and the 2014 Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet from Stardom.
- Stay Out of the Kitchen (1966, Stax)
- "You are only my love!" (1960)
- "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That?" (1960, Tamla)
- "(I Guess There's) No Love" (1960)
- "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" (1961)
- "Your Good Thing Is About to End" (1966, Stax) R&B: #6 US: #95
- "You're Taking Up Another Man's Place" (1966)
- "Same Time, Same Place" (1967)
- "I'm a Big Girl Now" (1967)
- "Don't Hit Me No More" (1967)
- "Able Mable" (1968)
- "Running Out" (1968)