The Marvelettes Biography

The Marvelettes’ career epitomized the haphazard progress endured by many of the leading girl-groups of the early 60s. Despite enjoying several major US hits, they were unable to sustain a consistent line-up, and their constant shifts in personnel made it difficult to overcome their rather anonymous public image. The group was formed in the late 50s by five students at Inkster High School in Michigan, USA: Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Marie Tillman (d. 6 January 1980), Wanda Young, Katherine Anderson and Juanita Grant. They were spotted at a school talent show by Robert Bateman of the Satintones, who introduced them to Berry Gordy, head of the fledgling Motown Records organization. Bateman co-produced their early releases with Brian Holland, and the partnership found immediate success with ‘Please Mr Postman’ - a US number 1 in 1961, and Motown’s biggest-selling record up to that point. This effervescent slice of pop-R&B captivated teenage audiences in the USA, and the song was introduced to an even wider public when the Beatles recorded a faithful cover version on their second album.

After a blatant attempt to repeat the winning formula with ‘Twistin’ Postman’, the Marvelettes made the US Top 20 again in 1962 with ‘Playboy’ and the chirpy ‘Beechwood 4-5789’. The cycle of line-up changes was already underway, with Juanita Grant’s departure reducing the group to a four-piece. The comparative failure of the next few singles also took its toll, and by 1965, Tillman had also left. The remaining trio, occasionally augmented by Florence Ballard of the Supremes, was paired with producer/writer Smokey Robinson. He tailored a series of ambitious hit singles for the group, the most successful of which was ‘Don’t Mess With Bill’ in 1966 - although ‘The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game’ was arguably a more significant achievement. Gladys Horton, the Marvelettes’ usual lead singer, left the group in 1967, to be replaced by Anne Bogan. They continued to notch up minor soul hits for the remainder of the decade, most notably ‘(When You’re) Young And In Love’, before disintegrating in 1970. Wanda Young completed the group’s recording commitments with an album, The Return Of The Marvelettes, which saw her supported by session vocalists. In 1989 original members Wanda Rogers and Gladys Horton, plus Echo Johnson and Jean McLain, recorded for Motor City, issuing the disco-sounding ‘Holding On With Both Hands’ andNow. Johnson and McLain were replaced by Jackie and Regina Holleman for subsequent releases.

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