Martha Reeves, now 77, lives in Detroit, where she served as a member of its City Council decades after she made hits for Motown as Martha and the Vandellas. The group disbanded in 1972, but Reeves continues to perform as the Vandellas with two of her sisters, Lois and Delphine Reeves, singing hits like “Dancing in the Streets,” “Quicksand” and “Nowhere to Run.” In 1994, Reeves also published a memoir, Dancing in the Streets: Confessions of a Motown Diva. The following are edited excerpts from her discussion with AARP about Motown's 60th anniversary.
On leaving home with the first Motortown Revue tour:
I wasn’t really thinking about myself. I was just glad to leave town and send money for my mother. That’s what my whole ambition [was] — that I could earn money. That’s why I started working in the A&R [Artists and Repertory] department in the first place. I would come in at 9 in the morning and leave at 9 in the evening, every day of the week because the doors never closed. For nine months I’d hoped to be on that revue ; I’d hoped for a contract. I was hoping that the girls I was working with, Rosalind [Ashford] and Annette [Sterling] and Gloria [Williams], would be in a frame of mind to be a group.
On their first time recording, as background singers for Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow":
I knew that Annette and Rosalind and I could nail that harmony. Gloria was creative and we made up our parts. [Martha sings those signature introductory notes] Doo doo doo DAH… Gloria made that up as well as most of the harmonies for the Vandellas. Marvin was on the mike and we were standing around him. It was close in there. We were able to touch him and flirt with him and sing that perfect harmony with him. We loved him so much. We sang behind him with no compensation a lot. On the Motortown Revue we’d stand offstage and sing behind him and make it sound like the record. We were very proud to help bring Marvin out of his ballad mode and into a funky choir-like sound.