Motown meets Minneapolis

Legendary group Martha and the Vandellas plays at the Dakota this weekend.

by Danylo Loutchko

In the 1960s, when record producer Berry Gordy Jr. founded the Motown record label, he envisioned it as a source of music that would be “the fountain of youth, the fountain of young America.”
More than 50 years later, the grooves and sounds of Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas still sound as fresh as they did half a century ago.
Today, to hear and see Martha Reeves sing is to witness original Motown music. Martha and the Vandellas makes their third appearance at the Dakota Jazz Club this Friday and Saturday
“Singers don’t retire,” Reeves said. “I’m singing as long as I’m asked to. People request us to come to different places, and I’m loving it.”
Despite being 74 years old, Reeves’ passion for Motown music is palpable and unwavering. 
Reeves said she and her band just wrapped up a European tour in Paris a couple of days after the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks.
“[We] brought music in to lighten hearts. I felt good being there with the people and cheering our spirits up with the wonderful magic of the Motown music,” she said.
Even 54 years after they were first signed to Motown, the ever-busy group still entertains small clubs like the Dakota, as well as several-thousand-seat venues. 
“I can sing Motown music and feel as young as I did when I first recorded it,” Reeves said. “That’s magic. [When] we sing songs that [people] remember, they tear up or get overjoyed because they remember when they were young and heard the music.”
Reeves first knew she wanted to be a singer when she saw Lena Horne sing “Stormy Weather” live.
“You have to watch what you pray for,” Reeves said. “I prayed to be a singer and, lo and behold, I am. [I’m] happy to wake up every day knowing … that people, after all these years, will invite me to come to their establishments and gather the music lovers — especially Motown fans — and witness our music that we recorded so many years ago.”
Before she was ever a singer, Reeves first landed a job at the Detroit-based Motown Records as a secretary. She had a chance to record a demo track at “Hitsville, U.S.A.,” and it eventually made its way to Gordy’s ears.
Gordy placed Reeves as a backup singer for, in Reeves’ words, “this new guy at the company named Marvin Gaye.” The album included Gaye’s breakthrough hit single, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.” 
Shortly after, Reeves joined the Motown family in her own right through the creation of Martha and the Vandellas. During Motown’s ’60s-era golden age, the Vandellas had many top hits, like “Dancing in the Street” and “Heatwave.” 
Today, Reeves still performs those songs, but she has also expressed her love of Motown through her time as a member of the Detroit City Council for four years. 
“As a Motown ambassador, I wanted to see what I could do to try encouraging the city to keep the arts in the schools,” Reeves said. “A lot of our schools have had those taken out, and I think it’s a loss because I’m a product of public schools and public school teachers.”
After her brief stint in politics, however, Reeves is back on the road.
“Show business is where my heart really lies,” she said.
Martha and the Vandellas
Where The Dakota Jazz Club, 1010 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis
When 7 and 9 p.m. Friday
Cost $30–60