Happy 80th Birthday Martha Reeves! A lady of so many talents, an artist with a big heart who has touched millions of people with her music and words, and who has represented Motown and
So, sort out a colourful party outfit and grab a glitzy cardboard hat to celebrate this very special day with one inimitable musical legend. With over one hundred and fifty family members and friends, Martha Reeves enjoyed the party of the year at her pal Bobbie Gingiloski's large estate in a village some forty miles north of
While Martha readily admits the route leading up to her eightieth birthday has been rough at times but is, of course, happy she's around to see it, the past eighteen months or so have hit her hard. "I'm sort of messed up now because CoVid…has put me in the twilight zone," she told www.hourdetroit.com. "I feel like I'm living in a science fiction movie…everything is so strange…I've still been getting over ten fan letters a week, so people haven't forgotten."
On the business side, employing eight people including her sister Vandellas, Delphine and Lois, the current situation is very discouraging. For instance, plans to tour
Let's move on. I think it's generally known by now, at least for those who were interested, that I first met Martha in
So, how does one tackle or give justice to a lady who has given so much and done even more in her lifetime? It's impossible. The best way, I reckon, is to dip my hand into the memory jar and see what comes out. It might just make for interesting reading.
When "Dancing In The Street" was first issued on the Stateside label in 1964 it crawled into the British Top 30. Upon re-release early 1969, with "Quicksand" on the flip, it shot to number four in the January. An album – more a compilation I guess - carrying the hit's name followed three months later, featuring some of the hottest tracks from the trio, with "Jimmy Mack", "Wild One" and "Nowhere To Run" among them. Then with Kiki Dee (then recently signed to Motown) Martha was guest of honour at the 10th anniversary party of Tamla Motown. The invite-only shindig, with tickets disguised as boarding passes, was held on Thursday, 13 August 1970, aboard the SS Cruisebuster moored at Westminster Pier, and at the time there were copious pictures of Kiki and Martha cutting the mouth-watering birthday cake together.
In all the years I've known her, we've rarely conducted interviews in the true sense of the word but when we did, we tried to keep them business-like. An interview in 1985 conducted while eating a breakfast of scrambled eggs at 4am (after being up all day and night) at the Sunshine Restaurant in London's West End was probably the wildest. This unearthly hour was the only time we could grab time to ourselves before she returned to
Then there's Martha's take on Motown leaving
At another time we spoke, returning to Motown wasn't a move she would have shrugged off. "Motown is my heritage," she smiled. "Berry Gordy taught me everything I know, and I remember when we were performing I used to look for him in the audience. I literally searched for him. When I found him, I worked even harder on that stage and when he wasn't there, I felt let down. He was concentrating on The Supremes and I wanted some of his attention as well. I began feeling like an outsider there and although
Unlike other acts, Martha and the Vandellas were spared the long wait for success as their second single "Come And Get These Memories" in 1963 was a hit. "I was a musical junkie after that. I just couldn't get enough music out of me. I was hooked on the business and knew I wasn't getting out. I'm sure if I had wanted to be a secretary, I'd have been the best one in my particular office. Being the best, doing the best, is important to me." She also confessed at the time that she was naïve about the business itself. "I had to learn fast but the business made me a stronger woman than I would be had I chosen some other profession."
"The biggest misconception about the Vandellas was that we were a group like, say, The Supremes. My decision to have back-ups was a result of my need for companionship on the road, as opposed to a need for serious background singers. I've had more background vocalists do sessions for me and have them named as Vandellas than the world would ever know." Throughout the existence of the group Martha's role has been one of mentor, advisor and employer and against heavy odds, she guided her girls through one hit after the other. A strong-willed and determined woman on the one hand, and a caring, friendly lady on the other, she always stood up for what she believed was right. Sometimes it wasn't easy, particularly in the early days. "We were always told that we had to wait until The Supremes opened the door and then when that door was opened, they'd let us through too. That was fine because Diana Ross opened up a lot of doors for our group and other groups. But the question we always asked was 'why can't we open some doors?' We felt we were a pretty strong act and had a lot of untapped potential."
Here's another from the memory jar. In 1971, Martha and the Vandellas toured the UK with Stevie Wonder during which time I spent hours backstage in the girls' dressing room. One time Stevie burst in as they were changing into their stage gowns and headed for the nearest Vandella to feel her breasts. Apparently, he did that quite often – the unannounced dressing room visits that is. I immediately adopted a statue-like position, holding my breath with mouth wide open. A decade and a bit later we met up one Saturday afternoon at her temporary home in a Bayswater apartment and, once again, I'm not sure why she was in
And here's more recollections. Martha and her ladies were regular visitors to my part of the world with sold out performances in the city of
Let's not brush over the fact that Martha Reeves is a survivor and it is this that has seen her through the traumas of her career which she now controls. Riding the musical fads and fancies by sticking to what she does best has stood her in good stead, while she credits her continued saleability to her upbringing and her faith in God. She's fiercely loyal to her fans who have remained with her through the years and goes to great lengths to show she returns that feeling. For instance, she either invites them into her dressing room after shows or arranges for a 'meet and greet' session where she spends hours chatting, signing and posing for photos. As mobiles gradually became personal cameras, Martha used to check the pictures taken to ensure she liked them.
Oh lord, I've not scratched the surface, have I? Anyway, just for the fun of it, let's dip into the memory jar one last time. The year was 2014. The place,
Finally, to add to her numerous awards, certificates, honours, inductions, and an appearance on BBC1's Celebrity Masterchef (where she appeared to be having a ball despite not winning), Martha will at last be receiving her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame next year. Meantime though, a couple of her songs – "This Love I've Got" and "It's Hard To Walk Away" – are featured on Ace Records' "Good Good Feeling: More Motown Girls" now on release.
Charge your glasses one last time in celebration: Cheers and A Very
Happy Birthday, Miss Martha Reeves!
(My grateful thanks to www.hourdetroit.com (Hour Detroit magazine) and the Detroit Free Press)