The eldest of eleven children, Reeves began singing with the Del-Phis in 1960. She was discovered in 1961 at Detroit’s fabled Twenty Grand Club, where Motown A&R man Mickey Stevenson heard her perform – Reeves’ prize for having won a talent contest.
Together with her backup singers, the Vandellas, Reeves recorded a classic run of singles in the mid-Sixties, most of them composed by the songwriting team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland. The Vandellas’ hit streak included what may be the definitive Motown anthem, “Dancing in the Street,” as well as such danceable blockbusters as “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave,” “Nowhere to Run” and “Jimmy Mack.”
From the outset, Martha Reeves’ voice possessed an earthy, direct quality that distinguished her from other female singers – such as sultry Mary Wells or demure Diana Ross – at Motown. Her voice bore the righteous fervor of gospel and the flinty edginess of rhythm & blues, which, combined with Motown’s stylized pop-soul approach, made for a compelling package.
The band were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.
From 2005 until 2009, Reeves served as an elected council woman for the city of Detroit, before returning to performing.