Model Emily Ratajkowski bares all in the photo shoot with Jonathan Leder. The look of this shoot has a vintage/noir feel; black and white photos shot in a hotel gives it gritty and sexy presence that works. Hit the link for more photos.
Ever since I wrote that post about the Marvelettes, I’ve noticed that I’ve made an error in information regarding Wanda Young-Rogers. Turns out the sultry Marvelette who soothed listeners with “Don’t Mess with Bill” and “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” is in fact doing real well considering all that she’s been through. I saw her (and the other surviving Marvelettes) on “Unsung”. I’m happy to report that despite suffering tragedies and injustices that would’ve impaired anyone else, the Marvelettes survived the odds and it’s amazing that a few changes have indeed helped change my opinion on even other Motown groups. For instance, it was always written as a “fact” that the group passed over “Where Did Our Love Go” leading way to the Supremes getting it… correction: the Supremes were the only group who was offered the song. Maybe Lamont Dozier disagrees but I can’t not believe what Eddie Holland (or was it Brian? I forgot) said. In fact I believe him and Katherine Anderson Schnaffer herself said she don’t know how “Where Did Our Love Go” would’ve fit into their caliber. Judging from the group’s music, they were definitely hardcore R&B whereas the Supremes were always more pop-oriented in the first place (all three original Supremes were more pop than soul with Florence being a little more R&B oriented than the other two, Diana & Mary). So my apologies to any inconsistencies in my post. And thanks to Wanda’s family for correcting a factual error. It’ll never happen again.
Long live the Marvelettes
There’s a saying that says that only you and God knows how your journey of this crazy thing we call “life” is going to end.
The sudden death of one of my childhood heroes, Whitney Houston, definitely rings that statement true.
Like the rest of the world, I was familiar with her amazing rise and her even more amazing fall from what seemed to be a graceful rise from a cute choir girl at East Orange, NJ’s New Hope Baptist Church to one of the biggest crossover phenomenons of the latter 20th century.
And like the rest of the world, my heart stopped upon hearing news that this great lady of song had passed away.
Right away, my memories crept up on me and videos and songs, some I hadn’t listened to in a while, began to re-conjure up again and I remember being 5, 6, 7 years old singing along to Whitney’s famous songs, thinking I wanted to be just like her when I grew up. Only difference is my family wasn’t famous so I wasn’t going to have it easy and just gave it up.
Whether you view her life story or even her music catalog, you can’t deny that Whitney Houston in her prime was one of the greatest vocalists to ever emerge. She constantly sung songs without even trying, effortlessly tugging at your heart strings while she sang something of relation to your own life.
To me, the fact that Whitney’s first major singing debut was singing a gospel song and her last performance was of her singing a gospel song – if barely containing the same voice that used to overpower all others for 20 of her 35 years as a professional recording artist (including performing background for the likes of Chaka Khan, her mother and Lou Rawls) – was a fitting end to what had been a remarkable journey.
If I have to remember Whitney, it won’t be for her downfall from grace that included drug addiction, alcoholism, a volatile marriage and understandable pressures for just being Whitney Houston, but it would be for the voice that used to cut people like glass, the grace she displayed onstage that was even more divine than that of Diana Ross or much like it, and the style that people have since imitated but can’t quite duplicate.
For me my memory would be her onstage in such a commanding presence either telling people of the “greatest love of all” or “one moment in time” or saying “it’s not right but it’s okay” or “my love is your love” or, especially, “I will always love you”. And maybe that’s how it should be.
So to Whitney, I just want you to know that we will always love you…and we’ll miss you. Thanks and rest in peace.
You know, even after four days of hearing about this obviously tragic loss of legendary Soul Train host Don Cornelius, I still am thinking of how shocking it was the day I first heard it. Reading on his back story prior to his death, I knew he was suffering but I never knew it was to this degree.
As we all know, Donald Cortez Cornelius, who rose to fame as the creator and host of the self-described “hippest trip in America (and later the world)”, Soul Train, was found dead in his Sherman Oaks, Calif., home at the age of 75 from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. What made this death so odd for me wasn’t really that Don seemed to be more cheerful and smooth during his tenure on the show, but that his problems had gotten so bad that he felt he had no choice but to pull the trigger and what’s worse is that he alerted his son about it and his son was helpless to do anything about it.
The more I think about it, most celebrities seem as if they’re real miserable. Despite rising to fame, it doesn’t really take away from their problems. Some try anything to numb the pain of the problems that they suffered from. I don’t know if Don himself did any self-medication. It’s clear Don kept his life very private and for that I can respect that because it’s hard to live under the public eye under intense scrutiny.
It can be hard for anybody be it a singer or a game show host.
But I would focus on the joy of what he brought to the world. For me, my childhood was not complete if I woke up and I didn’t hear the introduction of the show (with the New Jack Swing-styled version of the 1973-75 theme, “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia)”), the smooth announcer (Sid McCoy, who also famously shouted the soooooooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuullll TRAIN!) and, of course, without seeing this smooth gentleman after being announced (“and now your host Don Cornelius”) and then announcing that the show was gonna “hit you with grooves that will make you wanna move” and for at least four years of my early childhood, I had the pleasure of seeing Don do what he did best until he gave in to have other hosts on his show once he got tired of hosting the show daily.
Every Saturday morning from 1987 until 2006 was full of Soul Train memories. I’m kinda upset I didn’t see the show during its real heyday, which occurred between 1971 (its debut year) and 1984 (my birth year). What’s amazing is the show covered all bases, from the Motown/Philly/Stax soul of the early ’70s, to the proto-disco and funk of the mid ’70s, through disco, funk and boogie in the late ’70s and early ’80s, through the early emergence of new jack swing, hip-hop and adult contemporary R&B in the mid-to-late ’80s, and finally hip-hop soul, gangsta rap and modern R&B from the ’90s onwards.
You could tell in most of the episodes featuring Don that there was a lot of joy in the audience as they carried on shaking their groove thangs. Unfortunately for me, I had to be witness to the “downfall” of dance culture as the ’90s approached but I was thankful to catch the tail-end of Don Cornelius’ historic run and was, like others, sad to see him go after he said “and you can bet your last money it’s all gonna be a stone gas honey” for the last time in 1993.
My best memory of seeing Soul Train was seeing Don and Stevie Wonder together in 1991. Stevie had always been a presence on the show dating back to the ’70s and for some reason this episode among all others touched me.
In passing, I couldn’t imagine how black media would’ve been had Don not created Soul Train. He took on a bargain and it paid off in a big way. Not only that but he introduced black commercials (can’t imagine not seeing Afro Sheen and Dark ‘n’ Lovely without Don’s presence) and also inadvertently contributed to the evolution of black music (his and Dick Griffey’s original Soul Train Records later gave way to SOLAR Records). Not only that but he had to have had the greatest theme songs of any show of all time. Every time I hear a ST theme, especially the early ones, I get a smile on my face. Not only was the show’s evolution phenomenal but so was the way they in fact educated folks also. The Soul Train Scramble Board is a classic and also what was so great was that he allowed the dancers airtime so we saw them show their moves during the playing of some of the best R&B, soul, funk and disco music, but also showed them during the Soul Train line. The line created some stars in the process:
And also was the place where many young R&B artists made their debuts. Who in the ’70s couldn’t forget Al Green’s national TV debut when he emerged with a pimp hat, a pink tank top, and hot pants? Of course he stepped his game up about a year later and had become the king of early ’70s R&B. Ike & Tina’s 1972 show set the stage on fire as did appearances by Chuck Berry and Little Richard least proving that the show was definitely there to stay. Then the dramatic return of Marvin Gaye was witnessed in 1974 and resulted in three eventful appearances by the Motown prince. Luther Vandross’ legend grew after he appeared on the show in 1982. Most other artists also benefited from being on Soul Train as it meant a spike in their album and single sales. Once the show’s distribution started to pick up, almost everybody could see Soul Train and it replaced American Bandstand as “the show to see”.
Then of course later on, building on an empire, Don created two awards shows – The Soul Train Awards in 1987 and the Lady of Soul Awards about eight years later.
I couldn’t imagine a BET or MTV without Soul Train. I also couldn’t imagine Oprah Winfrey with her own show without Soul Train. As it’s been brought up in his obituaries, Don not only created and produced Soul Train but he owned it too, making him the first black man to own his own show. Something Oprah obviously picked up after her talk show took national syndication in 1986. A lot of things Don did was definitely important in the rise of black culture and American pop culture in general.
For all of this and more, I can’t do nothing but thank Don Cornelius for everything and may his soul finally rest in eternal peace.
And as he would say, “as always in parting, we wish you love, peace and soul!”
Last year, TV-One aired its season of Unsung. One of the stories they touched on was the life of Supremes founder Florence Ballard and how she had gotten the spotlight taken from her by Berry Gordy after being upset that she was being pushed aside to further the career of Supremes lead singer Diana Ross. Now while it’s clear maybe Florence should’ve gotten leads. I question how was she really “unsung”. In my opinion, people knew of Florence Ballard when she was in the Supremes. True she was forgotten about after she left, but she still was able to grab headlines up until her death. She was brought up again numerous times in several biographies.
One of the people interviewed said Ballard was “the most tragic story to come out of Motown”… well yes her death was indeed sad and tragic considering she was on a comeback trail but in my humble opinion, the real tragedy (of many in that richly varied Detroit label) was the way the Marvelettes’ career, lives and legacy has been handled. Being pioneers of a new sound of music can have its perks but it can also in time if people wanted to, make you forgotten about.
This is a group whose name was sold in a betting game in Las Vegas at a time when Motown was on its move to Los Angeles forgetting about the older members that literally pushed the label off the ground. One was the Miracles (who despite later success with “Love Machine” was disenfranchised from Motown), another was Mary Wells, whose career suffered a great deal after she left Motown following the release of “My Guy” in 1964, and the Marvelettes.
For a group who gave Motown its first number-one hit single and was a group that the Supremes struggled against, you think there would be more about their story but no one knows about the individual members like people do the Supremes. Motown never allowed them to give themselves an identity, only treated like a cog in a machine. They never gave any respect to the Marvelettes mainly because unlike the other Motown artists (with the exception of Washington, D.C.’s Marvin Gaye) based in Detroit, they were from Inkster. Also personal problems further endangered what could’ve been a promising rise to superstardom. And to top it off, “fake” Marvelettes are piling up taking credit for something they had nothing to do with. In order to understand their story, we have to go back to Inkster High School with a dream of singing that took place between four friends who wanted to be the next Chantels.
Gladys Horton, Georgia Dobbins, Juanita Cowart, Katherine Anderson and Georgeanna Tillman first began singing together in 1960. Their original name was the Casinyets partially due to some of them feeling they weren’t up to their vocal abilities (“can’t sing yet”). Mainly they sang in either the school choir or while waiting for their next class. Georgia Dobbins was the strongest among the five girls. The five girls changed their name to the Marvels in 1961 and began performing in talent shows.
For one particular talent show, the winner would get an audition with the top label in Detroit – Motown Records. The Marvels reportedly came in fourth but the group was allowed to audition anyway. After singing the Chantels’ “He’s Gone” and the Shirelles’ “I Met Him on a Sunday” in front of Motown CEO Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson, the duo was impressed by the group but wanted them to come up with an original song. Luckily, Georgia Dobbins knew of a songwriter named William Garrett. Together, the two wrote the song that would become their first hit single (“Please Mr. Postman”). Dobbins then decided to leave the group to take care of her ailing mother, giving the lead position to Gladys Horton. Wanda Young, another Inkster student, was asked to replace Dobbins. Returning to Motown, the quintet sang the song and soon got signed to Motown’s Tamla division. Gordy then took the task of shaping the group up: he altered their name from the Marvels to the Marvelettes and hired songwriters Brian Holland and Robert Bateman (Brianbert) to polish the song.
Despite fears she wouldn’t sing the song properly, Horton was able to nail the song with the other Marvelettes giving a perfect background call and response vocal. Motown issued “Please Mr. Postman” in late August 1961. After entering the charts in September of 1961, the song took a slow charge to number-one, which they eventually got to in December 1961. The song sold a million copies and soon the Marvelettes capitalized on their success with two more singles – “Twistin’ Postman” and their top 10 hit “Playboy”, making them instant stars on Motown’s roster. It was no surprise that they were among one of the headliners of the label’s first Motortown Revues in 1962.
By this point, Wanda had also began singing lead for the Marvelettes’ songs, giving the group a reputation with two lead singers instead of one. Despite claims otherwise that each of the Supremes (Diana Ross, Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson) sang lead during the first Motown releases, only Ross was the dominant lead though Florence Ballard did sing on one track, “Buttered Popcorn”, which bombed. Also Motown struggled to give the Supremes a hit to stand out while the Marvelettes seemed to be on the upswing.
After “Playboy” reached number seven on the pop charts, they followed it up with another huge dance hit, “Beechwood 4-5789″, which became more significant for the fact that its co-writer was then-Motown session drummer Marvin Gaye, who would begin to experience solo success on his own in the same year of the release of “Beechwood”. However, the first sign in the cracks of the Marvelettes’ rising success was evident. That year, Juanita Cowart incorrectly stated that Detroit was a suburb of Inkster. When she was reprimanded later for the incident, Cowart responding by shying away – she had depression. Soon she opted to leave the group. The other members didn’t replace her carrying on as a quartet.
While the Marvelettes had substantial chart success in 1963, Motown messed up the promotion of singles such as “Locking Up My Heart”, which peaked at number 44 on the pop charts. Despite this, the group was a big draw onstage. As evident in their performance on the Motortown Revue at the Apollo Theater, the group were proven showstoppers. Their rivals – the Supremes – were placed on the bottom of the bill as they still didn’t have charted hits. But that same year, the group faced more competition from another rising girl group – Martha and the Vandellas, which was led by the gospel-throated Martha Reeves, began scoring hits that year with the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland (Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland) including “Come Get These Memories” and “(Love is Like A) Heat Wave”.
By 1964, the Marvelettes were still a top draw but struggled against other competitors such as the Beatles and the Beach Boys. That spring, the group was giving a song that HDH wrote called “Where Did Our Love Go”, for Gladys Horton to sing lead on. The group, thinking the song to be childish, turned it down. HDH passed the song on to other female groups including the Velvelettes and the Vandellas and even Brenda Holloway but all of them turned it down. They passed the song on to the “no-hit” Supremes, who didn’t like the song either but felt they had no choice. Within months, their version became a number-one smash hit, much to the Marvelettes’ (and other groups’) dismay and shock. The Marvelettes did eventually return to the top 40 with the Norman Whitfield-produced “Too Many Fish in the Sea”, which peaked at number 25. Despite this renewing success, Georgeanna Tillman’s bout with lupus was serious to a point where doctors advised her to not perform again. Tillman responded by leaving the Marvelettes in early 1965 leaving original members Gladys Horton and Katherine Anderson and emerging singer Wanda Young as a trio.
Following the exit of Georgeanna Tillman, the group’s musical direction changed slightly with a more soulful edge after Motown’s producers discovered Wanda Young had a more complex voice than Gladys Horton. Young sang on the group’s next hit, “I’ll Keep Holding On” and its similar follow-up, “Danger Heartbreak Dead Ahead”. By 1966, Smokey Robinson was dealing with the exit of Mary Wells and looking for another singer to fill the void left by Wells’ 1964 departure though he went on to have success with records by the Temptations and Marvin Gaye. Finally Motown gave him the Marvelettes and figuring Wanda Young had a seductive quality urged her to sing softer. The result was their biggest hit in years and one of their signature hits – “Don’t Mess With Bill”. The record became a smash upon its release rising to number seven on the pop charts. The Marvelettes’ image also got polished up a bit from their original years.
Between 1966 and 1968, the group would have hits under Robinson’s productions. Other significant hits during this period included “You’re the One” (allegedly written for Wanda to then-boyfriend and future husband Bobby Rogers), the top 15 ballad “The Hunter Gets Captured By the Game”, a cover of Ruby & the Romantics’ “When You’re Young and in Love”, “Here I Am Baby” and “My Baby Must Be a Magician”, all sung by Young.
This was enough to keep the group at least near the top of Motown’s roster. However, like their other “comebacks”, they would begin to have a stiff decline. In 1968, Gladys Horton left the group to get married and start a family. Anne Bogan took her spot. And by the end of that year, tensions were growing between Young and the other Marvelettes. By 1969, Motown had began shifting away from its older acts and refused to promote the Marvelettes’ albums and singles. Motown was on its way to Los Angeles and was focused on building the careers of the Jackson 5 and a solo Diana Ross. Due to internal conflict, the rest of the Marvelettes split that year partially due to Katherine Anderson wanting a retirement from show business, Anne Bogan wanting a solo career and Wanda Young wanting the same thing, and also due to what became a contentious issue when Gordy lost the group’s moniker in a gambling game. Despite Wanda Young (now Rogers)’s own personal problems, Smokey Robinson still wanted to produce her. In 1970, he produced a solo album for Young with the Andantes (which had been on much of the Marvelettes’ recordings since 1966) singing background. Figuring there would be more buzz if it was a Marvelettes release, Motown promoted it as such though the group itself had already broke up. The resulting album, The Return of the Marvelettes, bombed. Afterwards, Wanda Young was let go from the label and thus ended an era that had sparked what became the Sound of Young America.
Wanda Young’s personal problems with drug addiction and alcohol led to her downfall. Her marriage to Bobby Rogers ended in the early 1970s and Wanda dropped out of sight completely. Gladys Horton settled at Los Angeles taking care of her handicapped son while occasionally singing as “Gladys Horton of the Marvelettes” and also battling against the fake groups performing as the Marvelettes. Katherine Anderson settled for social work in Detroit. Georgeanna Tillman died from her battle with lupus dying in 1980 at the age of just 35. Juanita Cowart’s whereabouts haven’t been known. Georgia Dobbins also settled for social work after splitting from the Marvelettes.
In later years, Dobbins and Katherine Anderson would appear together when the group finally got their gold-certified records for two singles including “Please Mr. Postman” and “Don’t Mess with Bill”. Wanda Young eventually reemerged in the late 1980s as did Gladys Horton when Ian Levine signed them to the Motorcity imprint. Katherine Anderson didn’t want. Due to Wanda Young’s state, only Gladys Horton was used to promote the Marvelettes’ record with two other singers. Wanda Young did make a performance in Detroit singing “Don’t Mess with Bill” despite murmurs that she had a problem with alcoholism. While the group has yet to be inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (a travesty within itself), it should be noted that they should be recognized as pioneers of a sound that helped to bring races together. Nearly 50 years later, the music of the Marvelettes still assures their place in music history and the fact that they still haven’t been fully recognized for it is a shame.
And that’s why to me, the Marvelettes are unsung…and a great group.