IT was a sweet tooth which lured Martha Reeves on to the stage for the first time The Dancing in the Street singer was just three when she entered a talent contest with her brothers Benny and Thomas.
They sang Jesus Met The Woman At The Well by the Soul Stirrers in a successful bid to win the chocolate covered candy prize.
But when Martha’s godmother took her to a concert for the first time she realised that music could also feed her soul.
The Paradise Theatre show featured Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, Peg Leg Bates and Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis but the impressionable youngster was most impressed by Lena Horne “She was so beautiful and singing such a sad song in the rain,” said the Motown star.
“I wanted to be able to touch with my voice how she moved me.
This is the moment that I recall in my heart that I wanted to learn how to sing.”
Martha joined the Girls’ Glee Club at Detroit's Northeastern High School and her teacher, Abraham Silver, chose her to be lead singer in the school’s first radio broadcast in a concert attended by 2,500 people.
Singing became a way of life for her.
“I would gather to sing with friends from high school in the park near the school,” Martha added.
“We loved blending our voices and became a part of a group of choir members named the Facinations.”
Then when a group called The Del-Phis lost a singer, opportunity knocked.
Martha said: “Our voices blended automatically and for two years we practised at each others’ houses three times a week.
“We would sing at any given invitation – birthday parties, YMCA clubs, recreation halls, churches, anywhere.”
But her big break was to come when Martha was 21.
She won a talent contest for a $5- a-night residency at The Twenty Grand, the biggest nightclub in Detroit.
It was not so much the prize but the exposure which made the difference with Motown A&R director Mickey Stevenson handing over his business card that night.
Martha soon found a home at Hitsville U.S.A and quickly made a name for herself with her renamed band, The Vandellas.
She added: “Come and Get These Memories got us on the charts.
Heat Wave gave us a Grammy nomination. Nowhere to Run and Forget Me Not gave us a special place in the hearts of veterans.
“Dancing in the Street put us in the Smithsonian and Jimmy Mack is one of those songs that everybody sings along to.”
Now Martha and The Vandellas are preparing for a night of soul at Warrington’s Parr Hall on September 14.
“I love audiences in the UK,” she said. “They know all the songs and all of the words. They sing and they dance and they come to have a good time.
“My favorite place is on stage, whether it is a large arena, a theatre or a small club, giving and receiving the love that Motown music has afforded us.
“Travelling has been overwhelming, beyond my wildest dreams. We do a lot of songs that we only do in the UK, like No One There. I have a couple of other surprises.
“I also always come out to meet with fans after the show.
Sometimes that one-on-one time is longer than the show itself, but it is important to me. I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for the fans, so I appreciate them.”
But the 73-year-old is critical of the modern pop music scene.
She added: “The music business isn’t as much about music anymore. It’s videos, half-naked girls and beats. It’s not about how well you sing, interpret a song, or how good the songs are any more.”
Martha, whose classic song Dancing in the Street has been covered by David Bowie and Mick Jagger and adapted by Bruce Springsteen, reckons the secret to success in the music business is being built to last.
She said: “Motown songs are memorable. 50 years later, they are still fresh. I advise anyone who chooses a career in any field, especially entertainment, to get educated by professionals and know all about your craft.
“You can’t rely on auto-tunes and a skimpy wardrobe if you want to do this for 50 years.”
- Martha Reeves and The Vandellas perform at Parr Hall on September 14. Tickets are £20.
Visit pyramidparrhall.com or call 442345.