Friday, November 6, 2009

The Marvelettes - Marvelous and Successful

By Robert D Hill

The Marvelettes are Motown's first successful female group. The group's name started as the Casinyets, with the original founder Gladys Horton who worked with Georgia Dobbins in their hometown, Inkster, Michigan. The two were supported by Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanetta (Juanita) Cowart and Katherine Anderson as backing vocalists.

In the early part of 1961, the group's name was changed to "The Marvels" when they joined the Inkster High School Talent Show. This was a significant event for the members because, although they finished fourth, they were allowed to audition for the new Motown record company. The policy was that only the top three winners should win the prize, which was the audition with Motown.

However, they were invited to be included and their audition was held in the April of 1961, in front of Motown's Brian Holland and Robert Bateman. They were so impressed that a second audition was scheduled with Motown founder Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, this time the group being asked to to perform original material.

Georgia Dobbins asked pianist William Garrett if he had some original material they could use, and he showed her a song titled "Please Mr. Postman" that had no music, and only a few lyrics. Georgia suggested that she rewrite it to render it more suitable for the band and Garrett agreed, but requested that his name remained as writer of the song. The inexperienced Georgia rewrote the song overnight, and when it was performed in front of the Motown executives they decided that the Marvels were star material.

Gordy changed the group's name to "The Marvelettes", rewrote "Please Mr. Postman" and released it as their first single. The song was released under the Tamla label in the summer of 1961, with Gladys Horton as lead singer. The other lead singer was Wanda Rogers who replaced Dobbins due to the objections of the latter's church-going father about her singing in nightclubs.

With the star treatment given to them by Motown, "Please Mr. Postman" entered the Billboard charts in the December of that year. It was a rather show ascent because it took fourteen weeks for it to hit number 1, although it was a record for its time.

Trying to take the maximum advantage and ride the popularity of the first hit, Motown released the second quickly afterwards entitled "Twistin' Postman". However, as the twist dance craze was dying out by that time, the single only reached 34 on the pop chart and 13 in the R&B charts. However, this did not deter them and the band's popularity soared, particularly during their road tours. The company capitalized on this and was booked for several ensemble tours and a few solo bookings.

The following year of 1962 was a tough one, with Wyanetta Cowart suffering depression, and finally leaving the group. With the band's popularity at its height, Motown forged their third album "The Marvelous Marvelettes". However, this third issue did not do well despite the successes of their previous albums. The four singles released from it in 1963 did not become top hits, and it was only the second single "Looking Up My Heart" that did well with Gladys as the main lead and Wanda singing falsetto. Even then it only reached number 25 in the R&B charts, and number 44 in Pop. The other singles did not do as well and it was obvious that the group's popularity was slowly dying away.

One of the factors working against the group at this time was the increasing competition from top Motown groups such as The Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, and also a rising tide of British and surf-pop bands. At one time the group refused to record a Holland-Dozier-Holland track titled "Where Did Our Love Go?" which The Supremes took on and made it to Number 1 both in the pop and R&B charts. Missing that opportunity was a low point in their career.

To make the situation even worse, Georgeanna Tillman was battling lupus by 1965 which forced her to stop touring. Eventually, she left the group but remained at Motown for a while working as a secretary. She married Billy Gordon of the Contours, but died in 1980, after which the Marvelettes continued as a trio.

The two years after the release of "The Marvelous Marvelettes" were not really marvelous. Their album, "Recorded Live on Stage" , was hastily put together and the singles sold poorly. They also compiled their "Greatest Hits" in an attempt to retain their popularity with the fans, but the writing seemed to be on the wall. However, there was a long way to go for the band yet.

In 1964, The Marvelettes' recording of "Too Many Fish in the Sea" (the one they preferred over "Where Did Our Love Go?") did relatively well, making it a Motown classic. It reached no.15 at R&B, no.25 at pop on the Billboard charts and no.5 on the Cash Box R&B chart. Two more songs were released from the same compilation LP titled "I'll Keep Holding On", and "Danger! Heartbreak Dead Ahead", both written by Mickey Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter with Wanda singing lead. These two tracks brought them back to the R&B scene, both achieving the no.11 shot at R&B.

With the release of "Don't Mess With Bill", the group started their long partnership with its writer Smokey Robinson. It brought the group its major success, earning them a Gold Record award 30 years later.

In 1967, the group's fifth album "The Marvelettes" was released still in partnership with Smokey Robinson. One of the most successful singles from the album was "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game", peaking at no.2 in R&B and no.13 in the pop charts.

Later in the same year, Gladys Horton left the group to get married. Anne Bogan replaced her and the group cut their next album, "Sophisticated Soul". With this, the group reformed their image and adopted a new style with Wanda in the lead. Some of the songs included in this album are "You're the One", "My Baby Must Be a Magician", "Destination Anywhere" and "Here I Am Baby", which did fairly well in the R&B and pop charts.

With the popularity of other Motown groups (Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and the Four Tops) and the emergence of the new groups like the Jackson 5 and soloists like Marvin Gaye, Motown gradually reduced its support to The Marvelettes. The group's 1969 album "In Full Bloom" received pretty mediocre publicity and a very small budget. None of the album's singles did well and some even failed to enter the charts.

The band made the decision to disband in 1970, when Motown moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. Critics would say that had group been properly exposed and managed, it might have achieved its full potential. Nevertheless, The Marvelettes still remain Motown's first successful female group, giving the firm its first number 1 Billboard Pop Hit in history.

To learn more about the Marvelletes or for the opportunity to shop for books, music, videos, and or apparel, check out

You can also watch YouTube videos, view the latest Motown news and comment on our blog.

Article Source:

No comments:

Post a Comment