Martha and the Vandellas were one of the most successful groups in the Motown roster during the 1960s and fully active from 1960 to 1972, performing at various times doo-wop, pop, rock and roll and soul.
The label's second most-successful all-female singing group after The Supremes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were known for a churchier, more southern-styled soul than the Supremes, as typified in Motown hits such as "(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave", "Jimmy Mack", "I'm Ready For Love", "My Baby Loves Me", "Nowhere to Run", and, their signature song, "Dancing in the Street".
The group had its origins in Detroit, Michigan in 1957, and had initially gone by the name The Del-Phis. It originally was a quartet comprising childhood friends Martha Reeves, Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard, and original lead singer Gloria Williams. Williams left after a failed single on the Checkmate label, leaving the quartet as a trio. They changed their name to The Vells signing a deal with Motown's Mel-o-dy label, and singing background for established Motown performers such as Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye before signing a new deal with Motown's Gordy label on September 21, 1962, after which the group changed its name to Martha and the Vandellas.
In 1964, the Vandellas' lineup changed with Betty Kelly replacing Annette Beard (now Beard-Sterling). In 1967, Kelly was fired and was replaced by Martha's younger sister, Sandra "Lois" Reeves. In 1969, Ashford was also fired and replaced by Sandra Tilley. It was right about this time that the group's name was officially changed to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, to conform with the company's recent changes of The Supremes' and The Miracles' names to reflect their featured lead singers. The lineup of the Reeves sisters and Tilley continued after Martha's return from an institution after suffering a nervous breakdown. The group disbanded following a farewell concert, held at Detroit's Cobo Hall on December 21, 1972.
The story of the group did not end completely with their split-up in 1972, however. While Tilley and Williams (both now deceased) eventually retired, the others continued with their individual career pursuits: Lois sang with the group Quiet Elegance and also sang background for Al Green; Reeves reunited with original Vandellas Ashford and Beard-Sterling for a 1978 benefit concert in Los Angeles; and in 1983, Reeves performed solo at Motown 25, which partly helped her and the Vandellas gain a new audience. In particular, Reeves herself is still known to sing with her sisters Lois and Delphine, often performing as a solo artist under the bill, "Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas", and still performs all over the world.
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