A drive from Kalamazoo to Detroit in a snowstorm to audition for Motown paid off for five college and high school students when Motown signed The Velvelettes as recording artists in 1962. Founded by Western Michigan students Bertha Barbee and Mildred Gill, the group’s roster also included Betty Kelley (who later joined the Vandellas), Mildred’s younger sister Carolyn (aka Cal) Gill and Bertha’s cousin Norma Barbee.
Two of The Velvelettes’ early recordings, “There He Goes” and “That’s the Reason Why,” featured a very young Stevie Wonder on harmonica. While neither of these releases made the charts, the group’s third single and trademark song, “Needle in a Haystack,” reached #45 on Billboard’s Hot 100 in 1964. Working with producer Norman Whitfield, The Velvelettes recorded “He Was Really Saying Something,” which gained popularity and reached #21 on the R&B chart and the Top 100 on the Pop chart. The group toured with the Motortown Revue extensively and is a favorite with international audiences as well.
The Velvelettes perform “These Things Will Keep Me Loving You” in 1966.
The original Velvelettes perform “Needle in a Haystack” in 2005.
All Members of The Velvelettes
- Carolyn “Cal” Gill
- Mildred Gill
- Bertha Barbee
- Norma Barbee
- Betty Kelley
- Annette McMullen
- Sandra Tilley
Berry Gordy was not the only family member with an eye and an ear for talent. Robert Bullock, Gordy’s nephew and son of Motown executive Esther Gordy Edwards, discovered The Velvelettes when they performed for fraternity and other parties at Western Michigan University.