Growing up in Detroit, Martha Reeves started out singing in church, and went on to turn out over a dozen million-selling singles and work with some of the biggest names in music. Now, at 73 (and a great-grandmother), she continues to tour the world, wowing crowds at this year’s Secret Garden Party and taking to the stage at Cambridge Corn Exchange later this month.
Q: What got you into music?
A: Aged three, my older brothers and I won chocolate-covered candy singing at a talent contest Saturday evening at my family’s church. I was also taken by my godmother to a show featuring Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Peg Leg Bates, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis and Lena Horne. Lena was so beautiful and singing such a sad song in the rain: I wanted to be able to move people with my voice the way she moved me.
Q: You tour all over the world. How do you find the UK crowds?
A: I love audiences in the UK, they know all the words. They sing, dance and come to have a good time. My favourite place is on stage, whether it is an arena, a theatre or a small club.
Q: What do you miss most when you’re on the road?
A: I miss home and family, and being able to work in my garden and cook my own food. One of my songs, Home to You, is about being on the road. I wrote it when I was on tour in the UK more than 40 years ago. I had just had my baby. The words are: “Been on the road too long, gotta have you in my arms, can’t wait to get home to you.” People thought it was about missing a man, but it was about my son.
Q: Do you have a favourite song?
A: Your songs are like your children: all of them are special in their own way. Come and Get These Memories got us on the charts. Heat Wave gave us a Grammy nomination. Dancing in the Street put us in the Smithsonian. And Jimmy Mack is the one that everybody sings along to.
Q: How have you seen the music business change over the years?
A: 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. Motown songs are memorable – 50 years later, they are still fresh. We had real musicians who knew how to play behind singers and make spaces for voices. We were also blessed to have a genius like Berry Gordy [Motown Records founder] who could recognise talent and took the time to help develop us. He made 30 acts household names! He invested in us.
‘The music business isn’t about music anymore. It’s videos, half-naked girls and beats’
I believe that learning something new every day is the key to happiness and long life. I advise anyone who chooses a career in any field, especially entertainment, to get educated by learned professionals, and know all about your craft to succeed. You can’t rely on auto-tunes and a skimpy wardrobe if you want to do this for 50 years.
Q: What can we expect from your Cambridge show?
A: A good time. We have a great band and we do a lot of songs that we only do in the UK. I have a couple of other surprises. I also always come out to meet with fans after the show which is important to me. I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for the fans. We ended our first Motown Revue of the UK in Portsmouth on 12 April 1965. Now here I am almost 50 years later! Let’s make some new memories.
Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Corn Exchange, 17 September, 7.30pm. Tickets £24.50-£28.50.