Q&A: Martha Reeves, of Martha and the Vandellas, Talks to Knockdown Alley

Posted on Tuesday September 1st in

One of Motown’s brightest female stars, Martha Reeves and her gospel-tinged alto voice helped launch Martha and the Vandellas from background-vocals beginnings to one of the label’s top touring and recording acts, with huge, infectious R&B hits that still resonate across the globe all these years later. And more than six decades into her career, Reeves shows no signs of slowing down. In July, the Guardian offered, “At 73, the Motown star has a classic and timeless appeal, and generates a dangerous amount of energy on stage.” She’s now joined by her sisters, Lois Reeves and Delphine Reeves, and with the arrival of this week’s Soul Explosion, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (below performing “Dancing in the Street” on The One Show) play Brooklyn Bowl on Thursday night. But ahead of that, the legendary singer got in touch with Knockdown Alley to answer some questions.

You’ve been a top-flight performer for decades, and while, obviously, so much has changed over the years, what’s something that’s remained constant about performing live? Thanks for the compliment, and I feel good about being called a top-flight entertainer, and it’s been a good lifestyle for 57 years. I enjoy performing and sharing our music with avid fans and fabulous musicians. I can feel as young as I did when I first became a singer of songs, from the age of thee in my grandfather’s church. It’s my joy. I love how God has blessed me with talent.

You served on Detroit’s city council. Which did you find to be more cutthroat, politics or the music industry? I wouldn’t refer to anything that I have taken part in as cutthroat. The thought makes me cringe. Politics was a challenge that I accepted and handled very well, as any other job that I have been privileged to endure. I was a waitress, housekeeper, telephone solicitor, secretary — and have plaques, statues, medals, keys to cities, states, and countries, and been awarded, after prayer and supplication, my Doctorate in Humanities and Masters in Religious Studies. I feel that I have answered the call in every instance of living as a gifted child — and succeeded on every level.

Are songs like “Dancing in the Street,” “Nowhere to Run,” and “Heat Wave” universal? Can you perform them anywhere in the world and get similar reactions? Or do crowds in different countries respond differently? The Motown sound — created in Detroit, Michigan, by our mentor, Berry Gordy, has afforded more than 30 successful artists with music once referred to as “the sound of young America” — after years of touring, performing, and airplay, is now “the sound of the world.” And I am proud to be one of the pioneering artists.

Do you notice that your music is received any differently in London than elsewhere? The Tamla Motown Appreciation Society, headed and formed by Dave Godin — God rest his soul — paid a visit in the beginning of our travels to the United Kingdom, and we were invited and supported. There was an immediate love relationship that came with that invitation, and it has grown in degrees ever since.

Which bands or musicians inspired you while growing up? And do you still listen to any of them? As the siblings of Elijah and Ruby Reeves, and being raised by our grandfather Elijah Joshua Reeves Sr., we were the choir and taught music at church and home. Both parents were singers, and Dad played guitar. I am the oldest girl of 11 children. I still favor gospel music, however I am a product of good teachers in every phase of my life, and I believe that the most gifted and blessed artists are in the church.

What’s your favorite thing about performing in London? It’s a
privilege and an honor to perform all of our songs in every venue in the United Kingdom. We are often delighted when performing in London because of the royalty that will surprise us with their presence and welcome us in person.

What music or song always makes you dance? What do you sing in
the shower?
Becoming and existing as an artist makes it mandatory to sing and exercise every day. My first song every morning is “The Lord’s Prayer” whether I’m in the bath or shower. —R. Zizmor | @Hand_Dog


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