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Motown's brightest female star after Diana Ross, Martha Reeves was the earthy, gospel-infused counterpart to her rival Ross' uptown sophistication. With her backing group, the Vandellas, Reeves cut some of the brightest, most infectiously danceable R&B of her time. Unfortunately, she didn't fare as well after leaving Motown for a solo career in the '70s, and although she continued to perform for quite sometime, it was mostly on the oldies circuit, looking back over her past glories.
Reeves was born in Eufaula, AL, on July 18, 1941, and before she was even a year old, her family moved to Detroit. As a child, she sang in her grandfather's church and in school, and continued her vocal training through high school. After graduating in 1959, she joined a girl group called the Fascinations, and the following year co-founded the Del-Phis, whose membership included the future Vandellas. They cut a flop single for a Chess subsidiary in 1961; the same year, Reeves won a talent contest as a solo act and got a nightclub engagement performing as Martha LaVaille. There she was noticed by Motown exec William "Mickey" Stevenson, who invited her to stop by the label's offices. Reeves wasn't able to land an audition right away, but did parlay her visit into a secretarial job in the A&R department. She caught a lucky break when backup singers were needed for a recording session as quickly as possible, and so the Del-Phis wound up supporting Marvin Gaye on his first hit, 1962's "Stubborn Kind of Fellow." Stevenson was impressed enough to record a Del-Phis (renamed the Vels) single, "You'll Never Cherish a Love So True ('Til You Lose It)," and released it on Motown's Mel-O-Dy subsidiary. One day, Mary Wells failed to show up for a recording session, and musicians' union rules demanded that a lead vocalist be present on the mic -- so secretary Reeves was hastily tapped to sing "I'll Have to Let Him Go." That song went on to become the first single credited to the newly renamed Martha & the Vandellas in 1963; their second single, the ballad "Come and Get These Memories," reached the R&B Top Five.
The rest, of course, was history. Martha & the Vandellas racked up an impressive slate of Motown classics that included the Top Five smashes "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Street," plus "Nowhere to Run," "I'm Ready for Love," "Jimmy Mack," and "Honey Chile," all of which made the R&B Top Five. Despite the occasional personnel turnover, and the fact that rivals the Supremes had become Motown's female group of choice, Martha & the Vandellas' run of success continued through 1967. Unfortunately, feeling the pressure to keep up, Reeves developed an addiction to prescription drugs, and in 1968 a bad acid trip prefigured a nervous breakdown that slowed the Vandellas' momentum even further. Although they continued to perform and record for several more years, they never matched the success of old and disbanded in December 1972 after a farewell concert in Detroit.
Meanwhile, Motown decided to transfer its offices from Detroit to Los Angeles. Reeves adamantly refused to move along with them and sued for release from her contract; she eventually won her independence and signed with MCA as a solo artist. She entered the studio with producer Richard Perry and a top session cast, and cut a monstrously expensive album that mixed rock, pop, and R&B covers, both vintage and contemporary. Martha Reeves was released in 1974 and sold very disappointingly, especially given its cost. Reeves sank deeper into a host of personal problems until she finally cleaned up and became a born-again Baptist in 1977. That year, she signed with Arista for The Rest of My Life, which blended '60s soul with disco-era production; once again, it sold poorly, and Reeves moved to Fantasy for 1978's even more disco-oriented We Meet Again, which featured four of her own compositions. After 1980's Gotta Keep Moving, Reeves gave up the ghost on her solo career. She spent the early '80s working on various Motown package tours, and eventually put together a new version of the Vandellas. In 1989, she reunited with original Vandellas Annette Sterling and Rosalind Holmes and cut the single "Step Into My Shoes" for British producer Ian Levine's Motor City label. However, she mostly continued make her living on the nostalgia circuit. Reeves was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
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. During her tenure with 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 councilwoman 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.
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 label mates 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 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.
Solo career 
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. 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".
Current work 
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 (b. 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."
Martha Reeves headlined at the 2011 Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington D.C. on July 1 as part of the R&B Program.
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 certificate in Humanities on November 25, 2012 in Detroit. She is slated to be among the first inductees in the Rhythm n' Blues Hall of Fame in September 2013.
Personal life 
Reeves is the mother of a son, Eric Jermel Graham, born November 10, 1970, and has been married and divorced twice. She has three grandchildren and became a great-grandmother on Friday, April 26, 2013 with the birth of Sophia Rose Graham.