Martha Reeves and the Vandellas are listed among Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Immortal Artists of all time. Now a new book, But Will You Love Me Tomorrow: An Oral History of the ‘60s Girl Groups details the experiences of The Vandellas, The Ronettes, The Shirelles, and The Supremes. Senior Planet spoke with Martha Reeves, from The Vandellas, together with co-author Emily Sieu Liebowitz to learn more.
“We chose the oral history format because we didn’t want to speak for the women; we wanted them, as much as possible, to tell their own stories,” notes Emily Sieu Liebowitz. No matter which chapter you read, the lasting impact of Martha and the Vandellas is clear.
Music’s early Appeal
Born to a family of musicians, Martha Reeves used her voice to sing as young as three years old. “It’s always been music, and I’ve always been surrounded by musical talents. I’ve always been Martha Reeves,” says Reeves.
Born in Eufaula, Alabama, Reeves moved to Detroit with her family as a baby. Her grandfather was a minister; her father introduced her to instruments (like blues guitar) that would ultimately define her sound as the lead singer of “Martha and the Vandellas” – a legendary Motown girl group during the 1960s.
The trio (originally Martha Reeves, Rosalind Ashford, and Annette Beard) were acclaimed for their eclectic performances and influence on the Motown sound – soul music with funky melodies, tight harmonies, and a distinctive rhythm. Their hits included classics like “My Baby Loves Me”, “Nowhere to Run”, and “(Love is Like a) Heatwave”.
Contemporary artists like Bruno Mars, Lake Street Dive, and Mark Ronson consider Motown a lasting influence.
“There is so much contemporary artists can learn from these stories of the girl groups,” says Liebowitz. “…musicians and other readers will see how much progress has been made,” she adds.
“For example, when Martha Reeves went out on the Motortown Review in 1962, a national tour, they played to segregated crowds and had their bus shot at while touring the South. No matter the time that an artist comes from, I think our book highlights the grit and determination of the women, alongside their incredible talent, that could inspire anyone,” says Liebowitz.
Honors and Awards
Reeves would eventually be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. She also received the Dinah Washington Award, a Rhythm n’ Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, and a Black Woman in Publishing Legends Award.
She’s also been inducted into the Alabama Soul, Rock and Roll and Vocal Group Hall of Fame. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas are listed among Rolling Stone magazine’s 100 Immortal Artists of all time.
Reeves continues to perform concerts and club dates both solo and with the Vandellas (currently her sisters, Lois and Delphine). “I’m going to sing until I die! I try to stay out of harm’s way,” exclaims Reeves.
Reeves is set to receive her star on The Hollywood Walk of Fame in March 2024.
“It was such an honor to speak to Martha Reeves about her story and legacy. She is a true icon. It’s a little overwhelming how much of an impact she has had on music and her fans”notes Liebowitz. “She started her career at Motown as the secretary and went on to reach acclaim with Martha and the Vandellas. She helped us understand the commitment, ingenuity and hard work the women of the girl groups had to have,” stresses Liebowitz.
Reeves hopes to be an inspiration to older adults who were musicians or who hope to strike a chord — and age with attitude. “Keep making music and doing performances. Age is just a number as long as your heart is young”.
Check out the official Spotify playlist for But Will You Love Me Tomorrow. But Will You Love Me Tomorrow: An Oral History of the ‘60s Girl Groups is available for purchase wherever books are sold.
Photo credit Bart Mastronardi Photography