In 2005, Motown star Martha Reeves of “Martha and the Vandellas” fame was elected to the eighth out of nine seats on the Detroit City Council. Talk about an unusual second act.
Berry Gordy Jr.
As a Detroit City Council member, her political emphasis has been promoting downtown Detroit tourism, particularly placing the city’s rich music heritage in the forefront. She has recently proposed renaming West Grand Boulevard, where the Motown Historical Museum still stands, after Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. She considers this to be a bury-the-hatchet offering despite her years of litigation against Gordy for royalties owed.
She has said, “Everywhere I go, there’s somebody telling me how much they love the Motown sound. But the downtown area has no signs there were ever entertainers raised here.”
Reeves is one of the few Motown stars who has remained in Detroit despite Gordy packing up everything but a nominal office and leaving his hometown for Los Angeles in 1972.
In her new position as Councilwoman, she has also proposed that statues of Detroit music legends be erected around downtown. In a London Telegraph interview, she said, “I want a big statue of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, sitting on a throne with a crown on her head in the city square. I want a statue of the Supremes in that Stop in the Name of Love pose.”
This was also a bury-the-hatchet offer to Diana Ross. Despite Reeves’ superior vocal range, she didn’t have the stage charisma of Diana Ross. And she has always felt like Berry Gordy shunted her aside for Ross’s career.
Martha and the Vandellas
In 1963, Reeves began work on “Spellbound”, a Smokey Robinson song penned just for her. She still believes that the unfinished single would have been her masterpiece if Gordy hadn’t shelved it in favor of Diana Ross’s career. But there’s no doubt about the greatness of Martha and the Vandellas’ body of work, “Dancing in the Street”, “(Love is Like a) Heatwave”, “Jimmy Mack”, “Nowhere to Run”, and more.
In 1995, Martha and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Councillor Martha Reeves
Throughout the years, money was tight for her, and she had suffered several breakdowns and drug problems until she became a re-born Christian in the eighties.
Martha Reeves still tours with the original Vandellas, Rosalind Ashford and Annette Beard, but engagements are planned around Detroit City Council meetings. With the promotional success of the 2006 Super Bowl held in downtown Detroit, development money has been pouring into the city. Perhaps Martha’s dreams of rejuvenating her hometown will come true.
“Martha Reeves’ new beat”, Brian Hiatt, Rolling Stone, URL: (http://www.rollingstone.com/artists/marthareeves/articles/story/7524104/martha_reeves_new_beat)
“Martha Reeves, the Motown Councillor”, Brian Mount, Telegraph, URL: (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/02/09/wreeves09.xml&sSheet=/news/2006/02/09/ixworld.html)
“Reinventing Motown”, Christopher Petkanas, Travel and Leisure, URL: (http://www.travelandleisure.com/articles/reinventing-motown)