Martha Reeves & The Vandellas was an American vocal group whose music incorporated doo-wop, R&B, traditional blues and soul. Founded in 1960 by friends Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Williams, the band eventually included Martha Reeves, who moved up in ranks as lead vocalist of the group after Williams' departure in 1962.
As teenagers, Ashford and Annette Beard were members of a girl group called The Del-Phis. The group performed at local venues with Gloria Williams on lead vocals. The group started out with six members, but became a trio by the time Alabama-born vocalist Martha Reeves joined, who had been a member of a rival group, the Fascinations. By 1961, the group, known as The Vels, was recording background vocals for Motown acts. Prior to her success as lead singer of The Elgins, Saundra Edwards (then going by her surname Mallett) recorded the song “Camel Walk,” in 1962, which featured The Vels on background vocals. That year, the quartet began applying background vocals for emerging Motown star Marvin Gaye, singing on Gaye's first hit single, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.”
After Mary Wells failed to make a scheduled recording session feigning a short illness, The Vels recorded what was initially a demo recording of “I'll Have to Let Him Go.” Motown was so impressed by the group's vocals – and Reeves’ lead vocals in the song – that label CEO Berry Gordy offered to give the group a contract. Figuring that being in show business was too rigorous Williams opted out of the group. With Williams out, the remaining trio of Ashford, Beard and Reeves renamed themselves Martha and The Vandellas.
The Vandellas second release, “Come and Get These Memories,” peaked at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart and peaked at #6 on the R&B chart. Their second hit, “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave” catapulted the trio to overnight stardom, peaking at #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and #1 on the R&B Singles chart for five weeks.
The group's success continued, however by 1963 Beard was pregnant with her first child and left the group to stay at home and raise her child. Betty Kelly replaced Beard as the group continued to be a hit with their next song, “Dancing in the Street,” which peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at #4 on the U.K. Singles chart in 1964. Between 1964 and 1967, Billboard Hot 100 Top 40 singles like “Wild One,” “Nowhere to Run“ “You've Been in Love Too Long,” “My Baby Loves Me,” “I'm Ready for Love“ and “Jimmy Mack“ kept The Vandellas on the map as one of the label's top acts. Beginning in 1967 the group became known as Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, to conform with the company's recent changes of The Supremes' and The Miracles' names to reflect their featured lead singers.
However, the band's success in the 1970s could not match that of the 1960s, but the trio was able to maintain moderate success, until they parted ways in 1972. Reeves went on to pursue a solo career and signed with MCA in 1974, releasing her critically acclaimed self-titled debut for the label that same year.
Though they did not receive any Grammy Awards, (they were nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group for “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave,” in 1964), Martha & The Vandellas' “Dancing in the Street” was inducted to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Except for pre-Vandellas member Gloria Williams, all members of the group were inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995, becoming just the second all-female group to be inducted, and were presented with the induction by rock group The B-52's. They were inducted to the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2003.Two of their singles, “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave” and “Dancing in the Street” were included in the list of The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.