Martha Reeves Turns 70

The Vandellas are now her sisters: Lois, who joined in 1968, and Delphine, who joined in the mid- 1980s.

Martha Reeves and the Vandellas performed at an Alive at Five concert last month in Albany; I didn’t go, having family obligations. Otherwise, I would have, for sure.

The Times Union newspaper wrote an interesting pre-concert piece about Martha and Vandellas touring in the first Motown Review in 1962, and dealing with segregation.

“We stopped at a few gas stations where they said, ‘No, don’t come in here.’ The first time I ever saw a shotgun face-to-face was at one of those places. The man said, ‘Get back on that bus.’ And he came to the bus with a shotgun and said, ‘Don’t another one of you step on this property.’ I tell you, we learned how to go in the woods.”

She laughs about it now, 49 years later. “We served as, basically, Freedom Riders,” she says, referring to civil rights activists who challenged segregation in the South. “That was not our intent, because when we sat at lunch counters we weren’t trying to protest. We were hungry people, trying to get some nourishment.”

“It didn’t happen. They’d say, ‘No, go to the back door.’ I remember being served cold hot chocolate and cold hot dogs. We ate them gladly. … It was rough, but people received our music everywhere we went. When we got back to Detroit after three months, we knew that our records would be in the charts, and they were.”

There were two great Vandellas songs that rank among the best summer songs EVER:
(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave and Dancing in the Street.

But I was always partial to this Smokey Robinson-penned tune: No More Tearstained Make Up. Also from that Watchout! album (which I own), the hit Jimmy Mack.

The Vandellas are now her sisters: Lois, who joined in 1968, and Delphine, who joined in the mid-1980s. But the songs sound the same, Reeves says. I always thought the group, and especially Martha, was underappreciated.