Mary Wells Biography

13 May 1943, Detroit, Michigan, USA, d. 26 July 1992, Los Angeles, California, USA. At the age of 17, Mary Wells composed ‘Bye Bye Baby’, a song which she offered to R&B star Jackie Wilson. His producer, Berry Gordy, was sufficiently impressed to offer her a contract with the newly formed Motown Records label, and Wells’ rendition of her song became one of the company’s first Top 50 hits in 1960. Gordy entrusted her career to Smokey Robinson, who masterminded all her subsequent Motown releases. Robinson composed a remarkable series of clever, witty soul songs, full of puns and unexpected twists, and set to irresistible melody lines. Wells responded with the fluency of the natural vocalist and the results were Motown’s most mature and adventurous records of the early 60s. ‘The One Who Really Loves You’ set the pattern as a Top 10 hit in 1962, while ‘You Beat Me To The Punch’ and ‘Two Lovers’ matched that success and offered two of Robinson’s more subtle lyrics. ‘What’s Easy For Two Is So Hard For One’ was Wells’ answer to the predominant New York girl-group sound, and another Top 30 hit in 1964. The pinnacle of the Robinson/Wells partnership, however, was ‘My Guy’, a US number 1 and UK Top 5 contender in 1964. Sophisticated and assured, it introduced the Motown sound to a worldwide audience, and marked out Wells as America’s most promising soul vocalist.

At the same time, Berry Gordy encouraged her to record an album of duets with Motown’s top male star, Marvin Gaye, from which ‘Once Upon A Time’ was pulled as another major hit single. Just as Well’s career reached its peak, she chose to leave Motown, tempted by an offer from 20th Century Fox that included the promise of film work. Without the guidance of Smokey Robinson, she was unable to capture her hit form, and she left the label the following year.

In 1966, she married Cecil Womack of the Valentinos, and moved to Atco Records, where she scored three further minor hits with ‘Dear Lover’, ‘Such A Sweet Thing’ and ‘The Doctor’. That marked the end of her chart career: subsequent sessions for a variety of US labels proved less than successful, and after a long period without a contract she was reduced to re-recording her Motown hits for Allegiance in the early 80s. Despite being diagnosed as having throat cancer she continued touring during the late 80s. Wells signed to Ian Levine’s Motor City label in 1987 and releasedKeeping My Mind On Love in 1990. She lost her battle against her illness on 26 July 1992.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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