Motown's first successful female vocal group, the Marvelettes are most notable
for recording the company's first #1 Pop hit, "Please Mr. Postman", and for setting the precedent for later
Motown girl groups such as Martha and the Vandellas and the Supremes.
During their eight-year run on the Billboard music charts the
group scored 21 Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and 23 Billboard Hot 100 hit singles. Of these hits 3 were Top 10 Pop
singles, 9 were top Top 10 R&B singles and their debut was #1 one on both charts.
Gladys Horton and Georgia Dobbins formed the Casinyets (or "Can't
Sing Yets") in their hometown Inkster, Michigan a suburb located west of Detroit, Michigan with backing vocalists
Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanetta (usually spelled "Juanita") Cowart, and Katherine Anderson
In 1961 the quintet, now called the Marvels, entered the Inkster
High School talent show where they finished fourth. Although only the first three winners could win the prize of a
trip to audition for the new Motown record company located on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, an exception was
made and they were allowed to audition as well. In April they did this for Motown executives Brian Holland and
Robert Bateman with the girls alternating lead parts. They auditioned for Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson who
scheduled a second audition after asking if the group had any original material.
At the next audition Georgia arrived with pianist William Garrett
who had also written a few tunes. Georgia had asked Garrett if he had any new songs and he showed her a blues song
called "Please Mr. Postman" that had only a few lyrics and no music. Garrett agreed to Georgia's rewriting the song
into something more favorable for a young girl group as long as he was given songwriting credit. Georgia, who had
no previous songwriting experience, took the tune home and reconstructed it overnight keeping only the
The song by Dobbins and Garrett turned out to be the Marvelettes
first single and their biggest hit, "Please Mr. Postman." The group returned to Motown with the song and a new
member, Wanda Young (later Rogers), who replaced Dobbins (whose church-going father was against the idea of his
daughter singing in nightclubs) giving them, like The Shirelles before, two lead singers.
Motown gave the Marvels the star treatment. Gordy renamed the
group the Marvelettes and had "Please Mr. Postman" re-written for them and released as their first single in the
summer of 1961 on the Tamla imprint with Horton singing lead. The song took fourteen weeks to hit the #1 position
on the Pop chart, a record for its time. The song also held at #1 on the Billboard R&B chart for seven
consecutive weeks. It was the first of two million-selling gold certified 45's for the group. An album also called
Please Mr. Postman was rush released to capitalize on the girls initial success but neither it or subsequent
four albums charted.
As their follow up, in a short-sighted move, Motown released
"Twistin' Postman" to capitalize on both the success of the groups first single and the twist dance craze. Released
in December 1961, as the fad was dying down, the song only reached #34 on the pop chart and #13 R&B. Despite
this, the Marvelettes were becoming a popular touring group going on various Motown ensemble tours and even a few
solo outings. A second album entitledThe Marvelettes Sing (a.k.a. Smash
Hits of '62) comprised 99% cover versions as the title
Their third album was calledPlayboy and included songs from many accomplished
writers such as Brian Holland, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Lamont Dozier. The album featured the hit singles
"Playboy" (#4 R&B, #7 Pop), "Beechwood 4-5789" (#7 R&B, #17 Pop) and "Someday, Someway" (#8
By this time founding member Juanita Cowart was suffering from
depression. After a mistake on American Bandstand in 1962, Cowart finally left the group. Motown press releases
called it a "nervous breakdown."
Not wanting to rest on their laurels the group forged ahead
recording their fourth album The Marvelous Marvelettes. Despite their previous track record this album did not
produce any major hits. Of the three singles released from the album the second single, "Locking Up My Heart",
fared the best. Horton was the main lead with Rogers on the latter portion on the tune singing falsetto. It reached
#25 R&B and #44 Pop. The single may have done better chart wise but suffered from split airplay as the track
"Forever", which featured Rogers, was its "B" side and also charted reaching #78 Pop. The other singles were
"Strange, I Know" which reached #10 on R&B but only peaked at #49 Pop and "My Daddy Knows Best" which peaked at
By 1964 the Marvelettes faced major competition, not only from
other Motown artists like the Supremes and Martha and the Vandellas, but from bands from the British Invasion and
surf-pop movements. The Marvelettes, Velvelettes and others turned down the song "Where Did Our Love Go", written
by the Holland–Dozier–Holland songwriting team. Instead, the Marvelettes chose to record Norman Whitfield and Eddie
Holland's "Too Many Fish in the Sea". Meanwhile Motown made the 'no hit' Supremes record "Where Did Our Love Go".
Even they did not much care for the song, which went on to reach #1 Pop and R&B.
In 1965 Georgeanna Tillman was battling lupus. As her health
problems worsened her doctor advised her to stop touring and she left the group for good. She remained at Motown
for a while as a secretary. Georgeanna Tillman married Billy Gordon (of the Contours) in 1963. She died in 1980
from the complications of sickle-cell anemia. The Marvelettes continued on as a trio.
During the two years following The Marvelous Marvelettes they
issued a number of under-achieving singles, a live album called The Marvelettes Recorded Live On Stage and a
greatest hits compilation The Marvelettes Greatest Hits which was actually not released until 16 February 1966. It
included the earlier non-studio album singles "As Long As I Know He's Mine", "He's A Good Guy (Yes He Is)" and
"You're My Remedy" all of which failed to make the Top 40.
The group's first notable hit in nearly two years came at the end
of 1964 with the Holland-Whitfield composition "Too Many Fish in the Sea" which has become a Motown and soul
classic, reaching #15 R&B and #25 Pop on the Billboard charts. On the heels of their new-found success further
singles were issued. "I'll Keep Holding On", now a Northern soul anthem and non-album track, reached #34 Pop and
#11 R&B, whilst "Danger! Heartbreak Dead Ahead" stalled at #61 Pop but also got to #11 R&B.
Just prior to the issue of their Greatest Hits album, a Smokey
Robinson composition called "Don't Mess with Bill" was released as a single, marking the beginning of a renewed
partnership with the songwriter and leader of the Miracles. "Don't Mess with Bill", a seductive anthem about
cheating, brought the group major success and a second million-selling, gold certified record. It reached #3
R&B and returned them to the Top 10 where it climbed to #7.
They continued their partnership with Robinson on their seventh
album, The Marvelettes (Pink Album), which was released in 1967. It spawned the massively popular "The Hunter Gets
Captured by the Game" which just missed the top of the R&B charts, peaking at #2 and hit #13 Pop. They followed
it up with a remake of the Ruby & the Romantics' "When You're Young and in Love", written by Van McCoy, peaking
at #9 R&B and #23 Pop. It also gave the Marvelettes their only UK hit where it reached #13. During this period
Robinson had begun to favor Rogers over Horton as lead singer on many of the groups songs.
n 1967 co-lead singer Horton left the group to get married and was
replaced by Anne Bogan. Their eighth album was named Sophisticated Soul after the new style under Rogers' lead and
their reformed appearance. Singles released from the album included "You're The One" (#20 R&B, #48 Pop), "My
Baby Must Be a Magician" (#8 R&B, #17 Pop, featuring an exceptional introduction by Melvin Franklin of the
Temptations, "Destination: Anywhere" (#28 R&B, #63 Pop), (written by Ashford & Simpson) and "Here I Am
Baby" (#14 R&B, #44 Pop).
Motown had long since shifted support to more successful and newer
artists on their roster. By the time their 1969 ninth album In Full Bloom was released Motown had all but sidelined
the group providing mediocre publicity and a smaller budget. The group were also experiencing some internal
problems which left them unable to do promotion. The album's only single, a remake of Justine Washington's "That's
How Heartaches Are Made", peaked at #97 Pop and failed at R&B. The Marvelettes were never to have another hit
single. The album failed to chart on either Pop or R&B.
By 1970 the Marvelettes had ceased to exist in all but name due to
serious internal conflict, Rogers personal problems and Motown's lack of interest. However, Motown thought that
there was some mileage to be had from making Rogers into a solo star. Despite all her problems which would have
prevented her from touring, Smokey cut an album with Rogers featuring the Andantes, (Motown's in-house backing
group), consisting mainly of older Motown songs. Motown thought it would have more commercial appeal if it was
released under the Marvelettes name, hence the title The Return of the Marvelettes. However Rogers was awaiting the
birth of her third child (with her then husband Miracle Bobby Rogers), and Motown was in the process of moving to
Los Angeles. Although it failed to make the Billboard 200 chart, it did reach #50 on the US Billboard R&B
chart. Motown issued two singles from the album, neither of which were hits, "Marionette" and "A Breathtaking Guy".
Meanwhile former Marvelette Anne Bogan went on to join trio Love, Peace & Happiness which evolved into group
Due to Motown's decision to sell the name "Marvelettes" to a
promoter, Larry Marshak, none of the original members are able to tour under the name "Marvelettes" in the United
States. Several groups bill themselves as "The Marvelettes", however these women are much younger than the original
lineup. Thanks to the efforts of people like Mary Wilson of the Supremes, legislation was launched in 2006 to
prevent artists from using the name of a group that does not have at least one original member.
In 2006, Horton appeared with Dazee Luv, Jaki-G & Denise
Stubbs of Joe Harris' Undisputed Truth on PBSs My Music Salute to Early Motown.
An in-depth history of the group can be found in Marc Taylor's
book, The Original Marvelettes: Motown's Mystery Girl Group and the Goldmine article on the group from its June 8,
In 2007, the Marvelettes were inducted into the Michigan Rock and
Roll Legends Hall of Fame.
In 2009, as part of Motown's 50th Anniversary celebrations, a new
limited-edition triple-CD set on the group entitled The Marvelettes: Forever – The Complete Motown Albums Vol. 1
was released. This featured the group's first six albums, some of which had never been released on CD. Vol. 2 is
scheduled for release in 2011.