Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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THE MARVELETTES: Motown 50 classic interview series - Sep 1990

The Marvelettes: Motown's first Golden Girls
The Marvelettes: Motown's first Golden Girls The Marvelettes; 1966 The Marvelettes; Early 60's The Marvelettes Iconic Album Cover

With Motown Recordsâ currently celebrating their 50th Anniversary, Pete Lewis recalls speaking exclusively to The Marvelettesâ former lead vocalist Wanda Rogers back in September 1990.

"I came off the road. I stopped singing because of the problems that was going on down South and what would happen when we were touring the Southern States. The white people were so prejudiced! I know Mary Wilson of The Supremes wrote a book and I began writing one. And I'm gonna continue it, because I notice that there's a lotta stories that the artists have not revealed to the public yet. We would work for the white people and they didn't never wanna pay us our money!"

âAll of the Motown artists traded with the Bank Of The Commonwealth, right? My money - I had over 13,000 dollars in small savings. Next thing I know, I go in the bank, and they canât even find my NAME on the file! They stole the money, they stole my childrenâs trust fund! Ooh, it was horrible, HORRIBLE things that happened! And Iâd not only find prejudice in the Southern States. Iâd come back up north, and even there it was everywhere Iâd go! The whites couldnât stand to see black people with their money!â

âIt hurt me deeply, because I read about these things in High School, right?... About the slavery and how white people treated the black people in earlier times. But I never in my Holy Ghost life thought that Iâd actually EXPERIENCE it! Youâre talking about FRIGHTNING?!! This was a SCREAMING NIGHTMARE!! No-oneâs mentioning it in their books - maybe some of the artists have touched on it recently. But I still havenât heard of any of the artists mention the PURE HATE that they endured, the disadvantages.â

⦠Sad, sinister tales related to me by Wanda Rogers of The Marvelettes, in an exclusive interview - the first she has given in over twenty years - following years of mental and alcohol-related problems. No doubt much of which was a reaction to the horrible experiences she endured within the social climate of the early Sixties, when The Marvelettes were Motownâs premiere girl vocal group, having provided the legendary Detroit label with its first US national Number One - âPlease Mr. Postmanâ - in 1961.

Professionally, meanwhile, disappointment also came in the early Seventies. When - with Motownâs move from Detroit to L.A. - The Marvelettes became one of several veteran Motown acts left behind in their hometown. Which ultimately led to them leaving the label and splitting up: âAt the time no-one actually complainedâ, relates Wanda sombrely: âIt was all done so quietly that we didnât know if the gangsters had taken over, or WHAT was going on - nobody knew! I guess I personally put it down to Sammy Davis Jr. and Mr. Berry Gordy Jr. being in the process of making movies togeyther. My understanding was that Berry was tired of the recording business and wanted to step up a little higher and get into the movie production. But, at the same time, inside I felt bad about the company moving - I mean, REAL bad⦠You know, I felt Iâd been personally left behind. Iâd grumble and complain within myself sometimes: âWhy would they move to California, knowing that this is Berry Gordyâs home town?â.â

Nevertheless, as Wanda openly acknowledges, life at Motown during The Marvelettesâ Sixties heyday was far from all bad: âYeah, knowing that the public really loved us would bring tears to my eyes! When theyâd throw money on the stage, throw keys, throw hankies - Iâd be like âOoh, they really LOVE us!â and it really would put me into shock for a while! Because Iâd think they really cared for us! Iâd carry my babies and go on the road. You know, sometimes Iâd be pregnant and singing. It was hard work!â

âI mean, on that score those were the greatest days Iâve ever experienced in my life!â, she reminisces joyfully: âWe - all the artists - were like one big happy family! Not only Berry Gordy, but the whole Gordy family, looked after us like we were their babies. Berry Gordy was like the daddy, and we were his children! If any problems would go wrong within the group, or with the female vocalists - Mary Wells, Kim Weston - weâd sit and have meetings. Even if somebody had personal problems at home, weâd still sit and discuss it! Weâd have such great times! Weâd have big company picnics every summer; Christmas parties where Mr. Berry Gordy would give the artists beautiful gifts⦠It was something Iâd never experienced before, and I loved it!â

âAnd, while those old Motown records are definitely still so popular because of that Motown Sound, I also believe some of their longevity is down to the love we shared with one another back then. You know, itâs something thatâll always linger and be there, regardless of how jealous one act might feel about another. You know, when you think of the company as a whole, you think of that love - one big happy family in the Motown Sound. And if thereâs one wish I have, itâs that those days would come back - where everybody could get together again as one big happy family - before I die, maybeâ¦â

Interestingly, Wanda was not actually an original member of The Marvelettesâ line-up. The group originally comprised five High School friends from Inkster, Michigan - Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georginna Gordon, Georgia Dobbins and Juanita Cowart, who all formed in 1960 to compete in a talent show, the three finalists from which were to win auditions at Motown. While The Marvelettes actually came fourth, a school teacher nevertheless persuaded Motown to listen to them too. With their audition going well, the group were advised to write some songs. Georgia came up with the essential idea for âPlease Mr. Postmanâ; Motown chief Berry Gordy liked the general idea⦠And, after completion by staff songwriters, it was recorded and became the groupâs first success - hitting Number One when the average age of the group was just 17! At this stage, Wanda joined the group to share lead vocals with Gladys. Hits that followed included âUsed To Be A Playboyâ, and âBeechwood 45789â.

âYeah, Iâd just graduated from High School when Gladys came over to my house and said âWanda, I heard you can sing! Would you like to join our group? Weâre having rehearsal this evening over at Georginnaâs house. If youâre interested come on over!ââ, remembers Wanda with a distant smile: âShe wanted to know if I could sing alto. And I said âI think can sing ALL of them - soprano, second soprano AND alto!â... So that evening I went over to Georginnaâs house, and instantly became a member of the group! You know, there were five original Marvelettes when the group first started out. But soon after Juanita Coward took ill and had to come off the road to get medical attention⦠Then Georginna had to come off the road to get medical attention... It was like an unknown sickness started in the group that Iâm not able to explain. And before long Katherine, Gladys and myself were the only three left.â

US hits under this line-up included âToo Many Fish In The Seaâ, Donât Mess With Billâ and âThe Hunter Gets Captured By The Gameâ; while the romantic ballad âWhen Youâre Young And In Loveâ gave the trio their first UK Top 20 success in 1967. Meanwhile, Gladys became the next to leave the group - to have her first child - and was replaced by Anne Bogan (who later fronted the early Seventies RCA Records soul group New Birth). And, with Anne in the line-up, they had one last hit with âMy Baby Must Be A Magicianâ before officially splitting in 1971

Meanwhile, bringing things up-to-date, both âToo Many Fish In The Seaâ and âMy Baby Must Be A Magicianâ are two remakes contained on the current Ian Levine-produced âThe Marvelettesâ¦Now!â album, on Ianâs Motorcity label. The line-up on said LP comprising Wanda Rogers, Gladys Horton, plus two new girls (Echo Johnson and Jean Mc Clain) that Gladys chose when she reformed the group in the mid-Eighties.

Concludes Wanda; âWhen Ian Levine first contacted me about doing a new Marvelettes album, I was amazed! It was a real shock! In fact, if it hadnât been for my baby sister pushing me, I wouldnât have recorded! Because, Iâd decided years ago that I didnât wanna record anymore!â

While Wanda has rejoined the group for recording purposes, she no longer tours with them. Nevertheless, she was lead vocalist on their debut Motorcity single release (also contained on their aforementioned current album), âHolding On With Both Handsâ.

As part of Motown Recordsâ 50th Anniversary, The Marvelettesâ album ââThe Definitive Collectionâ is released January 26; with The Marvelettesâ âComplete Albums Vol.1â following February 2

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