She was meant to call ahead. Instead, Martha Reeves assumes the Motown audition is set for the morning after winning a talent contest at Detroit’s 20 Grand nightclub. Fortunately, she impresses A&R chief Mickey Stevenson by holding down the phones for him that day, and is hired as a secretary. From then, it’s only a matter of time before Martha’s talent as a singer shines through. With the Vandellas, she proceeds to make memorable Motown music, including “Heat Wave,” “Nowhere To Run,” “Jimmy Mack” and the song considered to be one of the company’s timeless signature songs: “Dancing In The Street.”
- First hit: “Come and Get These Memories”
- Biggest hit: “Dancing in the Street”
- Top album: Watchout!
- Career highlight: “Dancing In The Street” – so era-defining that an entire book was written about it.
- What’s a Vandella? Martha combines the name of one of her favorite singers, Della Reese, with that of a street near her home, Van Dyke. Soon, the trio (now including Rosalind Ashford) records an early composition by an up-and-coming Motown team of writers and producers: Holland/Dozier/Holland. “Come And Get These Memories” claims a Top 30 presence on the Billboard Hot 100.
- Soaring temperatures during the summer of ’63 fuel Martha & the Vandellas’ first fire-alarm hit, “Heat Wave,” featuring a blazing vocal performance that becomes the group’s hallmark. The follow-up, “Quicksand,” takes a Top 10 slot, too, and this back-to-back achievement polishes the reputations of the group and Holland/Dozier/Holland.
- Martha & the Vandellas are among the first Motown acts to travel outside North America, promoting “Dancing In The Street” in the U.K. and then joining the Motortown Revue’s 21-date excursion into England, Scotland and Wales in 1965. The British embark on a long-lasting love affair with the group, even sending “Nowhere To Run” into the best-sellers on three separate occasions, and planting a reissue of “Dancing In The Street” into the Top 5 several years after its first release.
- Meanwhile, Motown adds “Reeves” to the trio’s billing in 1967, the year when they enjoy two further Top 10 singles, “I’m Ready For Love” and “Jimmy Mack.” After “Honey Chile” just misses the Top 10 early in ’68, the threesome finds the hits harder to come by, although “Forget Me Not,” the flipside of that year’s “I Promise To Wait My Love,” is a Top 20 achievement in the U.K.
- In 1972, Motown quits Detroit, and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas leave the record company, playing their last show together at the city’s Cobo Hall just before Christmas. Their leader steps out for a solo career with several different labels, but reconnects with Hitsville to appear on the Motown 25 network TV special in 1983.
- The legacy lives on. After Motown 25, Martha’s sisters Lois and Delphine join (or rejoin, in Lois’ case) a renewed Vandellas. lengthening a membership line which over time has included afore-mentioned Annette (Sterling) Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Betty Kelley, and Sandra Tilley. The songs, of course, never lose their luster, nor does Martha lose her energy. To this day, you can hear her eulogising “Dancing In The Street” on stage in cities at home and abroad. Calling out around the world…