They say Atlantic Records was The House That Ruth (Brown) Built. We never ever really give credit to the women who built an empire for Berry Gordy in the conjoined houses at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.
He Started with the business savvy of his sisters Anna, Gwen, Loucye and Esther. Early signings like Claudette Robinson of The Miracles, Mable John (in fact his first female recording artist), Mary Wells, and both his wives Thelma and Raynoma, there would have been no funds or test patterns for acts like Marvin Gaye, or room to bring in The Marvelettes, who brought the company much needed early funds with “Please Mr. Postman.”
Mary Wells’s blockbuster year of 1962 begot Martha & The Vandellas string of hits in 1963, which, of course, was the launching pad that The Supremes rocketed into orbit on during the second half of 1964. Pretty much the relentless touring The Supremes did allowed such dalliances as Motown moving to Los Angeles in the 1970’s and entering television and film production. Songwriter and Producer Sylvia Moy made sure Stevie Wonder didn’t lose his second chance at stardom (and to become a legend in his own right) when he was put on the chopping block during 1965. We can blame Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard for discovering Tommy Chong in Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers. We can thank Gladys Knight’s recommendation of The Jackson 5 for getting their foot in the door, if only for her advice to be rejected the first time, and be taken more seriously when Bobby Taylor recommended them a second time.
While focusing on what these women accomplished in the studio, on the stage and in society during the 1960’s, it’s mindboggling that they left over “extras.” Some artists, like Brenda Holloway and Martha and The Vandellas, after 25 years of releasing multiple full albums worth of material still stashed in the vaults, can still be surprised themselves as artists approaching 80 years old hearing forgotten songs they recorded more than 50 years ago. Last year for Women’s History Month I dug up 21, this year, I’ve uncovered 26 for your listening pleasure. Let’s all bask in the accomplishments of the ladies from The Motor City as we blossom further into Spring.
2) Mable John – More Lovin’
3) Mary Wells – That’s Why I Love You (Like I Do)
17) Gladys Knight & The Pips – I Can’t Take You Back