The Velvelettes Biography

Two pairs of sisters, Millie and Cal Gill, and Bertha and Norma Barbee, formed the original Velvelettes line-up in 1961 at Western Michigan State University. After recording a one-off single, ‘There He Goes’, for IPG Records in 1963, they were signed to Motown Records, where they were placed in the hands of fledgling producer Norman Whitfield. This partnership spawned three classic singles, ‘Needle In A Haystack’, ‘He Was Really Sayin’ Something’ and ‘These Things Will Keep Me Lovin’ You’, which epitomized Motown’s approach to the all girl-group sound. A flurry of personnel changes effectively halted the Velvelettes’ progress in 1965: Millie Gill and the Barbee sisters left, to be replaced briefly by two future members of Martha And The Vandellas, Sandra Tilley and Betty Kelly (16 September 1944), and Annette McMullen. This line-up also dissolved after a few months. In 1970, ‘These Things Will Keep Me Loving You’ became a belated UK hit, confirming the Velvelettes’ cult status among British soul fans.

The original line-up regrouped in 1984 to play revival shows, and re-recorded their hits for Nightmare Records. Carolyn Gill-Street, Bertha Barbee-McNeal, Norma Barbee-Fairhurst and Millie Gill-Arbour recorded a disco version of ‘Needle In A Haystack’ for Ian Levine’s label in 1987, and continue recording to the present day. 1990’s One Door Closes consisted half of old hits and half of new material, recorded in an updated Motown style.

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

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