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.
Reeves is the recipient of the Dinah Washington Award, a Rhythm n’ Blues Foundation Pioneer Award, a Black Woman in Publishing Legends Award, and has been inducted in the Alabama, Soul, Rock and Roll, and Vocal Group halls of fame. “Dancing in the Street” has been entered into the Library of Congress Registry of Historical Recordings and into the Grammy Hall of Fame. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas are listed among Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 Immortal Artists” and Martha herself was named one of the “30 Top Lead Singers of all Time.” In 2011, she received a MOJO Award in London, alongside legends such as Ringo Starr and Eddie Floyd. In 2012, she returned to the charts with the Billboard Top 25 dance hit, “I’m Not Leaving.” In 2014, she celebrated the 50th year of “Dancing in the Street” with her “Calling Out Around the World Tour,” making stops across the US, Canada, the Caribbean, England, Italy, Mexico, Scotland, Wales and more. This year, she is featured in the Nick Donnelly documentary film “God Save The Queen” that explores the harsh realities faced by women in the music industry.