Dancing in the Street
American R&B/soul singer Martha Reeves became famous as the lead vocalist of the girl group Martha and the Vandellas (1962-1972), which was one of Motown’s best known acts. With the group, she produced a number of hit singles, most notably the Grammy nominee “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” (1963) and “Dancing in the Street” (1964). After the disbandment of the Vandellas in 1972, Reeves launched a solo career with various studios like MCA, Arista and Fantasy, but none of her albums received the same success as her work with Motown. Her newest solo album, “Home To You,” was released in 2004 by Itch/True Life Entertainment. It marked her first studio album since 1980's “Got To Keep On Moving.”
Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. Eight years later, they became an inductee at the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.
In a more personal note, Reeves became a born-again Baptist in 1977 after she successfully overcame her addictions to prescription pills and alcohol.
Childhood and Family:
Martha Rose Reeves was born in Eufaula, Alabama, on July 18, 1941, to Ruby Lee Gilmore Reeves and Elijah Joshua. Her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, when Martha was still a baby. Raised in a musical family, young Martha began singing as a child. She performed at her grandfather's church and in school. In Northeastern High School, she studied voice under the guidance of Abraham Silver, who also worked with upcoming Motown stars Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson of The Supremes, and Bobby Rogers of the Miracles. Martha graduated in 1959.
Reeves has been married twice. She has a son named Eric (born in 1970) and three grandchildren.
(Love is Like a) Heat Wave
16-year-old Martha Reeves co-founded The Del-Phis with Gloria Williams, Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard. She performed with her group at private events, high school parties and talent shows for several years. She then joined the Sabre-Ettes and the Fascinations. Reeves rejoined The Del-Phis in 1960, with Williams as the leader, and they released a single under the Chess subsidiary, Checkmate Records, the following year called “I'll Let You Know.” The song was unsuccessful but the group did score attention from Motown after the label purchased Checkmate.
It was also in 1961 that Reeves won a talent contest as a solo artist and received a three day booking at a local nightclub as her prize. Performing under the name Martha LaVaille, Reeves was spotted by William R. Stevenson, who was the executive and staff songwriter/producer of Motown, and asked to audition. A hard working teen, she quit her dry-cleaning plant job and visited his office the next day. She did not directly land an audition, but unexpectedly took a job as a secretary at the label.
During her off time, Reeves joined the Del-Phis (later known as the Vels) and recorded the single “There He Is (At My Door).” Like its predecessor, the song also failed to impact the charts and lead vocalist Gloria Williams left the group in 1962. After her departure, Reeves took the lead singing position. Along with Ashford and Beard, Reeves sang backup for Motown artist Marvin Gaye's hit singles “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” “Hitch Hike” and “Pride & Joy,” which were included in his sophomore album “That Stubborn Kinda Fellow.”
In 1962, Reeves was asked by Stevenson to sing his song “I'll Have to Let Him Go” as a demo. With support from Ashford and Beard, she gained strong notice for her performance and was subsequently signed by the Motown founder Berry Gordy. Shortly thereafter, the three girls performed under the name Martha and the Vandellas.
As the leader of Martha and the Vandellas, Reeves enjoyed her first hit single with “Come and Get These Memories,” the group's second single after “I'll Have to Let Him Go.” Written by the Holland-Dozier-Holland team, the song peaked at No. 29 on Billboard's Hot 100 and No. 6 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart. She scored another success with “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” (1963). In addition to reaching No. 4 on the Hot 100, the song also debuted at No. 1 on the R&B singles chart and stayed there for five weeks. It brought the group a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. “Quicksand” followed in October that same year. It rose to No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, marking the group's second Top 10 single after “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave.”
After two moderate hits, “Live Wire” and “In My Lonely Room,” Reeves and her group again attracted attention thanks to the 1964 hit “Dancing in the Street.” One of Motown's signature songs, the single achieved success in American (No. 2 on Billboard's Hot 100) and in the U.K., where it became a Top 2 hit on the pop singles chart. Martha and the Vandellas had a number of hit singles produced from 1964 to 1967, including “Nowhere to Run,” “My Baby Loves Me” and “Jimmy Mack,” and a number of offers to appear on popular TV shows. Among them were “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Mike Douglas Show.”
Despite the success of the Vandellas, Reeves was shocked by the decision of CEO Berry Gordy to focus most of his attention on launching the career of The Supremes and its lead vocalist Diana Ross. This fact, combined with other issues like a rigorous recording and touring schedule, led to her abusing prescription drugs and alcohol. When Reeves suffered a nervous breakdown in 1969, the Vandellas faced a short breakup and Rosalind Ashford left the group shortly thereafter. After she recovered, Reeves recruited Sandra Tilley to replace Ashford and the group, which was comprised of Reeves, her younger sister Lois, and Tilley, went on to perform until 1972. They disbanded after the release of their album “Black Magic.”
Reeves hoped to continue her solo career with Motown, but when the label moved its operation from Detroit to Los Angeles, she decided to end their long running partnership. In 1974, she found a new home with MCA and released her first solo album, “Martha Reeves,” later that same year. The album was well received by critics and spawned the singles “Power of Love” (1974, #76 Pop; #27 R&B), “Wild Night” (1974, #74 R&B) and “Love Blind” (1975, #61 R&B). Despite its success with critics, “Martha Reeves” failed to render commercial success.
In 1977, the now sober Reeves resurfaced with her second album, “For the Rest of My Life,” which was published by Arista Records. The album was another commercial flop. “We Meet Again” (1978), her third solo studio album and the first with Fantasy, enjoyed the same fate as its predecessors. After the release of “Got To Keep On Moving” in 1980, a second album with Fantasy, Reeves did not produce any solo albums until 2004 when she launched “Home To You” via Itch/True Life Entertainment. During her long term hiatus, Reeves performed in a 1983 Broadway production of “Ain't Misbehavin.” In 1989, she was reunited with original members of the Vandellas to record the single “Step Into My Shoes” and then embarked on their reunion tour.
In 2005, Reeves won a seat on the Detroit City Council. Still an active performer, she has continued to perform in concerts under the name Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas with her sisters Lois and Delphine Reeves. In 2007, she revisited the Old Motown Studio in Detroit to sing “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave” with Australian group Human Nature. It was included in the group's “Get Ready” album.