Martha Rose Reeves, born on 18 July 1941, tirelessly carries the Motown torch forward as one of the relatively few representatives of its classic era still performing live on a regular basis. Not bad for someone who started out as a secretary at the label and then as a backing vocalist, who sang with her group mates with an up-and-coming Tamla notable called Marvin Gaye.
After a recent appearance at the famous London Palladium, Reeves takes her show to France in late July 2017. Then comes a brief return home for dates including a gala 76th birthday event at another storied venue, Detroit’s Roostertail, on August 3. Then the road beckons again for yet another transatlantic sojourn, and concerts in Wales.
In 1997, the Motown and Motor City Fanclub, a group of hardcore devotees of the company’s history not given to favouring big Tamla hits just because they were famous, conducted a poll of its members. They were asked to name their favourite Motown singles of all time, and it’s a huge testament to Martha and the Vandellas that they had two of the top six titles, three of the top 11 and four of the top 20.
With the Temptations’ “My Girl” at No. 1 and the Contours’ great, but lesser-known “Just A Little Misunderstanding” at No. 2 in that list, Reeves and the group landed at No. 3 with “Nowhere To Run,” No. 6 with “Heatwave,” No. 11 with “Dancing In The Street” and No. 20 with “Jimmy Mack.”
Four more great Martha and the Vandellas that are less talked about these days also placed inside that prestigious and carefully-chosen top 100 poll: “I’m Ready For Love,” “Quicksand,” “Lovebug Leave My Heart Alone” and “My Baby Loves Me.” The group also have the distinction that their single “I’ll Have To Let Him Go” (their first release under the group name in the U.S., on Gordy in 1962) is one of the rarest and most collectable of all Motown single releases in the U.K..
Only the second all-female group to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, Martha and the Vandellas remained on Motown into the early 1970s, after which Reeves pursued her solo career for some years and hit the U.S. R&B Top 30 in 1974 with the MCA single “Power Of Love.”
Later reunions and line-ups of the Vandellas help to keep those towering original hits alive to this day, and let’s not forget how Martha has stayed true to her Detroit roots throughout her life, serving as a city councillor for four years from 2005.
“A song’s got to click with me before I like it, no matter what the audience thinks,” she told Ebony magazine back in 1968. All these years later, the songs are still clicking.