Friday, June 17, 2011

The Supremes

The Supremes were the premier act for Motown through the 1960s. Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Betty McGlown formed the Primettes in Detroit in 1959. Barbara Martin replaced McGlown in 1960 and in January 1961 Berry Gordy signed The Primettes to Motown under one condition - they had to change their name. Florence Ballard picked the name The Supremes. Martin left the group in early 1962 to start a family and the group continued as a trio. The Supremes racked up 12 #1 singles with Motown between 1964 and 1969. Florence Ballard left the group in 1967 and was replaced by Cindy Birdsong. Diana Ross left the group in January 1970 and was replaced by Jean Terrell. After several other personnel changes in the 1970s, The Supremes disbanded in 1977. Florence Ballard died suddenly in 1976 from coronary thrombosis at age 32. The Supremes were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994.

The Four Tops

The Four Tops formed in Detroit in 1953 as The Four Aims. Lead singer Levi Stubbs and groupmates Abdul "Duke" Fakir, Renaldo "Obie" Benson and Lawrence Payton remained together for over four decades, having gone from 1953 until 1997 without a single change in personnel. The Four Tops signed with Motown in 1963 and stayed with the label until 1972. The Four Tops were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. Lawrence Payton died in 1997; Obie Benson died of lung cancer in 2005; and Levi Stubbs died from complications of a stroke in 2008. The Four Tops are still performing together in 2011 with Duke Fakir now the only surviving founding member of the original group.

The Temptations

Formed in Detroit, Michigan, in 1960 as The Elgins , The Temptations original members were Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, Elbridge "Al" Bryant, Melvin Franklin, and Paul Williams. The Temptations signed with Motown in early 1961 as The Elgins but Berry Gordy discovered there already was a group with that name. The name Temptations was thought up by several Motown employees while sitting with the group members on the front steps of Hitsville USA. The Temptations had numerous hits for Motown and the group was still performing in 2010 with its one living original member, Otis Williams.

Martha & The Vandellas

In 1961 Martha Reeves was working as a secretary at Motown and later was responsible for helping acts audition for the label. By 1961, the group The Vels were recording background vocals for Motown acts. After Mary Wells failed to make a scheduled recording session the Vels recorded what was initially a demo recording of I'll Have to Let Him Go. Motown was so impressed by the group's vocals – and Martha's lead vocals in the song – that Berry Gordy offered to give the group a contract. Martha Reeves, Annette Beard, and Rosalind Ashford renamed themselves Martha and the Vandellas, choosing the name "Vandella" as a mixture of two things – Reeves lived on Van Dyke Street in Detroit and her idol was Detroit singer Della Reese. Martha & The Vandellas' hits include:
  • Come and Get These Memories
  • Heat Wave
  • Quicksand
  • Dancing in the Street
  • Nowhere to Run
  • My Baby Loves Me
  • I'm Ready For Love
  • Jimmy Mack

  • Mary Wells

    Mary Wells was born in Detroit in 1943 and was signed to Motown Records in 1960 at age 17. Her five year stay at Motown resulted in such hits as The One Who Really Loves You, You Beat Me to the Punch, Two Lovers, and My Guy. She sued Motown in 1965 to be released from her contract. Mary Wells died from complications of throat cancer in 1992 at age 49.

    The Marvelettes

    The Marvelettes formed in 1960 at Inkster High School in Inkster, Michigan. Original members were lead singer Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Marie Tillman Gordon, Wanda Young, Katherine Anderson, and Juanita Cowart. Cowart left in 1962 and Gordon in 1965; Horton left in 1967 and was replaced by Anne Bogan. Motown's first successful female vocal group, The Marvelettes are most notable for recording the company's first #1 pop hit Please Mr. Postman. Other hits include Playboy, Beechwood 4-5789, Don't Mess With Bill, The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game, When You're Young and in Love, and My Baby Must Be a Magician. The Marvelettes disbanded in 1969. Georgeanna Tillman died in 1980 from lupus at age 36. Gladys Horton died in January 2011 at age 66 of complications from several strokes.