Coming of age in Detroit, particularly during the Motown era, even for a die-hard jazz buff, it was hard to ignore the doo-wop and the sound of soul from Smokey Robinson and Miracles, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, the Temptations, the Four Tops, and, well you get the drill.
Add to this all-star mix the Marvelettes, and they are brought sadly to mind with the recent announcement that Gladys Horton, 66, a co-founder of the group and a former lead singer, had joined the ancestors.
According to her son, Vaughn Thornton, Horton died on Jan. 26 in a Sherman Oaks, California nursing home where she had been recuperating from a stroke she suffered some time ago.
The Marvelettes may not have been among the Motown label’s top artists, but they none the less commanded wide respect and in 1961 with their “Please Mr. Postman,” garnered a number one hit, Motown’s first, and a Billboard #1.
Horton and the group, which included at one time or another, Katherine Anderson, Juanita Cowart, Georgeanna Tillman, Georgia Dobbins, and Wanda Young, also recorded such popular tunes as “Beechwood 4-5789” and “Playboy.”
My personal favorites were “Don’t Mess With Bill” and “My Baby Must Have Been a Magician.”
Born in Detroit, Horton was raised in Inkster, a suburb where many blacks employed by the Ford Motor Company settled. She began her singing career in the high school glee club. It was here that she met her sisters in song and they called themselves “The Casingyets,” short for “can’t sing yet.”
That moniker soon gave way to the Marvelettes and the girls were on their way to fame and little fortune. And that fortune could have been easily enhanced if they had chosen to record “Where Did I Love Go?” which the Supremes did to great acclaim.
After the Marvelettes topped the charts with “Please Mr. Postman,” Berry Gordy threw a big Christmas party, according to Otis Williams, one of the Temptations. “…The Marvelettes walked in wearing big, fancy hats and with an attitude that let you know they were in the money now,” he wrote in his memoir.
I wish I had Marc Taylor’s wonderful book on the Marvelettes handy because his research more than fills in the gaps about the group and their phenomenal career. See “The Original Marvelettes: Motown’s Mystery Girl Group” (Aloiv Publishing Co., 2004).