Born in Alabama in 1941, Martha Reeves grew up in Detroit and signed with Motown Records in the early 1960s. With several songs penned by famed songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland at the ready, Martha and the Vandellas went on to widespread pop and R&B success. Although the shadow of Diana Ross and the Supremes loomed large at the time, Martha and the Vandellas scored hit after hit, propelling the group to fame. Songs such as "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave," "Quicksand" and "Nowhere to Run" became staples of the era and have survived in the public consciousness long past Motown's move to Los Angeles and the Vandellas' 1972 breakup.
Martha Rose Reeves was born in Eufaula, Alabama, on July 18, 1941, but she and her family moved to Detroit, Michigan, before she reached the age of 1. Reeves sang in her grandfather's church and in school while growing up and worked on her singing throughout her four years at Northeastern High School, where she was a singing sensation. She graduated in 1959 and joined a girl group called the Fascinations, and, a year later, co-founded the Del-Phis with friends Annette Beard and Rosalind Holmes. The group soon cut its first single and signed a contract with Motown's Mel-O-Dy Records, and Reeves also landed a secretarial job at the label.
Martha Reeves caught her next break when her group was picked to sing backup on Marvin Gaye's 1963 song "Stubborn Kinda Fellow," which went on to be a smash hit. The following year, Martha and the Vandellas, as they were now known, recorded their own major single, "I'll Have to Let Him Go," when the singer originally slated to record the song didn't show up for the session. "Come and Get These Memories," a song penned by famed songwriting and production team Holland-Dozier-Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian Holland and Eddie Holland), made it to No. 5 on the R&B chart and began a prosperous collaboration between the songwriters and the group.
Success Comes Calling
Martha and the Vandellas' second hit, another HDH song, was the timeless "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave," which became a phenomenon, climbing the Hot 100 chart to No. 4 and hittin No. 1 on the R&B singles chart. The single sold more than a million copies and earned the group its only Grammy Award nomination (best R&B vocal performance by a duo or group). The ball really rolling now, "Heat Wave" was followed by "Quicksand," also penned by HDH. The song reached No. 8 on the pop charts in 1963, and the group was wrestling back some of the spotlight from the Supremes, the new reigning girl group of the time.
The hits certainly didn't stop there for Martha and the Vandellas. "Dancing in the Street" rose to No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1964 (it was reissued five years later and became one of the biggest Motown singles ever released). What followed, between 1964 and 1967, was a rash of Top 40 hits, including "Nowhere to Run" (No. 8), "My Baby Loves Me" (No. 22; R&B No. 3), "I'm Ready for Love" (Mo. 9; R&B No. 2) and "Jimmy Mack" (No. 10; R&B No. 1). The group also made several TV appearances during this period, on series such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Mike Douglas Show and American Bandstand.
Beyond the Peak
Between continuously living in the shadow of Diana Ross and her Supremes and the burden of churning out an endless stream of hits, Martha Reeves eventually succumbed to the pressures surrounding her and developed an addiction to prescription drugs. On top of that, by 1969, HRH had ended their affiliation with Motown Records, and the Vandellas started to come apart at the seams. They played a farewell concert in Detroit and disbanded in 1972. That same year, Motown moved its operations from Detroit to Los Angeles, and Reeves left the label for MCA and became a solo artist.
Afterward, Reeves spent years making records, but they never reached the level of success enjoyed by the Vandellas. In 1994, she released an autobiography, Dancing in The Street, (Confessions of a Motown Diva). In 1995, she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
For many years, Martha Reeves served as a member of the City Council of the City of Detroit. Outside of this role and others she's had in more recent years, she has continued to perform old Martha and the Vandellas songs to live audiences.
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