Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were not always Motown stars. In fact, Martha, who was working as a solo act, took a secretarial job with producer Mickey Stevenson just to get her dainty foot in the door. This unpaid gig led to back-up singing assignments from Stevenson for Martha and her former singing mates, Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard, most notably on Marvin Gaye’s earliest hits. Recognizing their potential, the group was signed to a Motown contract in 1962. Always a trio, the Vandellas experienced personnel changes over the years and have included Betty Kelly, Lois Reeves and Sandra Tilley, in addition to Ashford and Beard.
Shortly after signing with the company, the group recorded Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Come and Get These Memories” in 1963. The single reached #29 on the Top 40 pop and #6 on the R&B charts. This recording is especially notable because it was also the first song produced by Motown’s titanic trio. The collaboration with Holland-Dozier-Holland continued with the release of “Quicksand,” which reached the Top Ten. In 1964, the partnership of Ivy Hunter, William “Mickey” Stevenson and Marvin Gaye produced Martha and the Vandellas’ anthem, “Dancing in the Street.” Over the next three years, the group charted with multiple releases that include “Wild One,” “Nowhere to Run,” “My Baby Loves Me,” “I’m Ready for Love” and “Jimmy Mack.”
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas’ beat-driven, heart-pounding songs were Motown’s counterpoint to the Supremes’ lighter, pop-flavored vocals and gained favor with fans in the United States and across the globe.
For their many contributions to R&B, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, only the second female group to receive that honor. The group, listed at #96, joined numerous fellow Motown artists on Rolling Stone’s 2004 listing of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.