Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Reeves, Martha

Martha Reeves, lead singer of the Motown group Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and former Detroit city council member, was born on July 18, 1941 in Eufaula, Alabama. Her family moved to Detroit shortly after her birth. Her parents passed along a love for music to their 11 children, who formed the choir at the Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, where Reeves’s grandfather served as pastor.

Encouraged by her vocal teacher at Northeastern High School, Reeves started performing as a solo act, under the name Martha Lavaille, and as part of a group called the Del-Phis. She won a talent contest, and landed a three-night contract at the Detroit nightclub The 20 Grand, which led to her break. Motown Records director of Artists and Repertoire department, William “Mickey” Stevenson saw Reeves and invited her to audition at the record company. 

Arriving without an appointment for her audition, Reeves originally started as a receptionist in 1961 at “Hitsville U.S.A” when Stevenson told her to answer the telephone during a hectic morning. Reeves continued as a secretary/receptionist while singing back up parts for Marvin Gaye, along with Del-Phis Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard. 

In 1963, Berry Gordy signed Reeves and the other two singers to a contract as Martha and the Vandellas, a name Reeves created out of a combination of her favorite Detroit street, Van Dyke, and her idol, Della Reese. A Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team creation, “Come and Get These Memories,” was their first hit, followed by “(Love is Like a) Heat Wave” - their first to sell a million records. Their 1964 single “Dancing in the Street” remains one of Motown’s good-time anthems. Following a string of hits, the group was released by Motown after the company moved to Los Angeles in 1971 and Reeves continued as a solo act.

The group, called Martha Reeves and the Vandellas from 1967 to 1972, became tremendously popular, and Reeves received many honors, including the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, the Spirit of Detroit Award and the Dick Clark American Soul Award. She has also been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

Reeves served on the Detroit City Council from 2005-2009, then returned to her singing career, singing alone, or at times with the Vandellas, her two sisters Lois and Delphine. She is an unofficial ambassador for the Motown Museum and its legacy.



Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' record "Dancing in the Streets", 1973 - 2012.005.043

Signed Martha Reeves and the Vandellas single, 1964 - 2013.082.001

View all items related to Martha Reeves