on, and even during their success, Martha and
the Vandellas were like a lot of other “girl
groups:” members came and went at a
The group started out as the Del-Phis.
Martha didn’t get to sing lead until the
original lead (Gloria Jean Williamson -- up
there at the top) quit the group.
was a constant throughout, but the Vandellas
From 1962 to 1964, the Vandellas were Rosalind
Ashford and Annette Beard:
1964 to 1967, they were Rosalind and Betty
1967 to 1969, they were Rosalind and Martha's
sister, Lois Reeves:
from 1969 to 1972, they were Lois and Sandra
even with all the changes in personnel,
somehow the stars aligned.
Just not right away.
Martha had been singing locally, both solo and
with the Del-Phis, and was very excited when,
after a solo performance, Mickey
Stevenson (a writer/producer at Motown)
introduced himself, gave her his card, and
asked her to come by Motown on Thursday, which
was audition day.
thought this was her big break and went there
the very next day - a Tuesday.
Not expecting her, Mickey said she must have
misunderstood the timing, and he had to go out
of the office for a few minutes. "Could
you answer the phone in the meantime?" he
A few minutes turned into a few hours, during
which time Martha, very familiar with clerical
work, answered the phone, tidied up the
office, organized the files, brought order to
the chaos -- and got herself hired as the
A&R's new secretary.
Life Lesson #1: One gets one's foot in
the door however one can.
there, Martha -- and her Del-Phi backup
singers-- worked their way up the
contributed hand claps, foot stomps, and,
eventually, back-up vocals for a wide variety
of Motown recording artists. Their very
first back-up gig was on Marvin Gaye's first
smash hit, "Stubborn Kinda Fella," in 1962:
that point, Motown owner Berry Gordy was ready
to give them a shot, but he wanted a new
name. He pronounced the "girl group"
"Martha and the Vandellas."
group's second record, released in the spring
of 1963, was written by
Holland-Dozier-Holland, who would later write
The Supremes’ first hits.
The song charted as high as #29 and stayed in
the Top 200 for 4 months. Martha and the
Vandellas now had Motown’s attention:
Next up was a song as incendiary as its title.
in August, 1963, when heat waves were
sprouting up everywhere, the song got all the
way to #4:
then, it was the habit of record companies
(and may still be) that when a song hits
big, the follow-up release should sound a
lot like the first.
This brings us to another Top 10 hit for
Martha and the Vandellas, with deep musical
"Heat Wave" roots:
tried their luck again with “Live
Wire.” That, unfortunately, was one
too-similar song too many. It only got
was time for a different musical
in the Street
and the Vandellas recorded what became their
signature song with restrained ferocity, and
it was a massive hit, going all the way to
the top of the charts:
the next three years, they had three more
was filmed inside a Ford Mustang
Ready for Love
1967 marked the beginning of a five-year
slide to the bottom of the charts with no
Key writers and producers had left Motown
(usually in disagreements with Berry Gordy
over money), and Gordy was spending all of
his time planning Diana Ross’s ascension
from the Supremes.
of the other Motown acts suffered as
well. Plus, it didn’t help that
Martha and the Vandellas were fighting
amongst themselves. Martha finally
left to strike out on her own at the end
later, in the late 1980’s, Martha and the
original Vandellas reunited, cashing in on
the perpetual nostalgia craze for 60’s
music and the performers who made that
1995, they were inducted into the Rock ’n
Roll Hall of Fame.
a clip of the reunited "Martha and the
Vandellas" around that time, when they
performed live on "The Today Show":