The Marvelettes on How They Became Motown Music Legends ‹ Literary Hub


But Will You Love Me Tomorrow is an oral history of the girl groups of the ’60. The songs that the girl groups created and sang are timeless, and have become embedded in American culture. Songs like “Mr. Postman,” “Be My Baby,” “Chapel of Love,” and “Where did our love go? ” As these songs rose to the top of the charts, girl groups cornered the burgeoning post-war market of teenage rock and roll fans, indelibly shaping the trajectory of pop music in the process. However, no matter how essential these songs are to the American music canon, many of the artists remain all but anonymous to most listeners. We interviewed over 100 people for this project, including women from acts like The Ronettes, The Shirelles, The Supremes, as well as the songwriters, to their agents, managers, and sound engineers—and even to the present-day celebrities inspired by their lasting influence.

Our book gives particular insight into the experiences of the female singers and songwriters who created the movement, but we didn’t want to speak for the women; we wanted them, as much as possible, to tell their own story. This oral history is a compilation of the stories we have access to and people shared only what they felt comfortable disclosing, constructed from what was told to us as the people we are, by the people who lived it, and it represents only a small portion of those people’s lives. These women’s contributions to society and culture have been neglected for so long, and continue to be so, and we wanted to honor the women in the project by letting their voices lead.  We have been attending doo-wop shows for years and wrote this book not only because we love this music but also because we think this history is important and necessary.

Below, The Marvelettes, the girl group that introduced Motown to the nation.


Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: We lived in the projects then, and Georgeanna and Wyanetta lived on the street opposite mine. And so we would always sit up and play cards and music and stuff like that. I think Gladys’s thing was, “What else do we have to do? So let’s do this.”

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: I already had in mind to ask Georgia Dobbins to be a part of my group. She was not only smart, but she was very kind. All the girls looked up to her, wanting to be just like her. I wanted her to be in the group, so I saved a spot for her.

Georgia Dobbins, The Marvelettes: Gladys needed another girl. She just came over to the house and asked me to sing background with her.

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: I heard on the loudspeaker about the talent show.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: If we did win, we had a chance to go to Motown and do the song.

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: I said, “Well, I’m going to get some girls.” I approached Georgeanna, and she brought Wyanetta and Katherine along.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: We came in fourth. Some of the teachers thought that we were exceptionally good and should have won and our teacher told us—Mrs. Shirley Sharpley—she told us that we were really good, and so she and several other teachers said that maybe we could go to Motown and sing.

Shirley Sharpley, The Marvelettes’ teacher: I thought they should have won. When I complimented them and told them that they should have won, they asked me if I would take them for the audition down at Motown.   The kids had the telephone number and I followed through. I just called. It was Gladys who gave me the number. I called and got an appointment.

They looked at us like we were dumb. To them, we were little young, country, dumb-looking chicks. We were square, we weren’t glamorous at all. We were country kids coming to the big city.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: Oh, honey, oh, honey, please  yes, we were country girls—they didn’t want us to do anything. They didn’t want to be bothered with those country girls, because Inkster was a small community—Detroit is much larger.

Georgia Dobbins, The Marvelettes: They looked at us like we were dumb. To them, we were little young, country, dumb-looking chicks. We were square, we weren’t glamorous at all. We were country kids coming to the big city.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: Berry [Gordy] was the one who told us to come up with an original song. Berry said, “These girls are good, but do they have their original material? You can come back when you have your own original material.” You always get that “but” in there.

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: I thought it would be a month or two before Georgia finished the song, but in just two or three days, she was at my front door singing it.

Georgia Dobbins, The Marvelettes: I was standing by the window. I was waiting for the postman to bring me a letter from this guy who was in the Navy. That’s how I came up with the lyrics. Then I made up the tune.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: That’s the reason the song came out. You know when you’re eighteen, nineteen years old—you have a problem. [laughing]

Georgia Dobbins, The Marvelettes: I just hummed it over and over and changed it to the way it should be. I improvised.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: When we went to Motown with “Please Mr. Postman,” they were excited because we had brought them original material. Here again, Motown was growing, it was building. So bringing in new material was like bringing in new blood.

The few people there when we came, they were not necessarily of the magnitude you may expect them to be because you’re a new company. You can’t have everybody be perfect. You had a couple of writers, but you really didn’t have a stable of writers. Therefore, it was vitally important to get original material. At that point Robert Bateman was there, Brian was there.

Brian Holland, songwriter: She came to Motown, to Robert Bateman and I, with the idea of “Postman.” We said, “Oh, that sounds great, that sounds great. Let us go and finish it—write this song.”

Marc Taylor, music writer: Holland and Bateman made some adjustments to “Please Mr. Postman” in order to fit it to Gladys’s voice and also arranged the background vocals; thus, they took part in the writing credits.

Brian Holland, songwriter: It was really Robert Bateman and I and Georgia Dobbins that did the song. Then Freddie Gorman came in.

Mickey Stevenson, Motown A&R: And Freddie Gorman was a postman. You know, he was originally a postman.

Marc Taylor, music writer: Gorman, who was actually a mail carrier, also offered a few suggestions and became one of the five official writers of the song: William Garrett, an Inkster classmate who provided the title; Georgia Dobbins; Robert Bateman; Freddie Gorman; and Brian Holland.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: A lot of people are on that disc, but, see, if you can find one of the discs that came out earlier—you would only see the three names, which was Brianbert [Brian Holland and Robert Bateman’s production team] and Georgia Dobbins.

Brian Holland, songwriter: No, no, no…I don’t really know that. I can’t answer that because I don’t really recall that—I know she had a part of a song, but we had to finish a lot of that song—period. She didn’t have a complete song—she had the idea of “Please Mr. Postman.”

Georgia Dobbins, The Marvelettes: We were going through rehearsals for about a week or so before they brought out the contracts. When it came time for the contract, I presented it to my dad and he hit the roof. He asked my mother, “How long has this girl been singing?” My dad did not know I could sing. My brothers and I were raised in the church and grew up a little strict. My mom would let me out. She knew I was having little rehearsals in the basement.

I’m not knocking my parents, but they thought that when they signed the contract, that if we didn’t make it, they’d have to pay that money back. That was their understanding. They didn’t know anything but going to work and going to church on Sunday morning. And by them being Christian, entertainment and nightclub life was out of the question. That was ununacceptable. Back then they’d call you “fast,” “no good,” “won’t amount to anything.”

My mother’s illness was also the reason why they wouldn’t sign for me. I’m the oldest child in the family with six brothers and my family depended on me totally. My mother was ill all of my life.

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: Georgia’s mother was sick with a bad back, and Georgia made it clear that she was not going to leave her mother if we had to tour. Georgia wanted me to sing lead, so she taught me the song.

Georgia Dobbins, The Marvelettes: When my dad wouldn’t sign the contract, it was just like somebody had snatched the rug from up under me. It’s like wanting something and somebody just takes it away from you. You want to go, you’ve got your outfit ready, but Daddy says no. That’s the way it was for me. You’ve got your little dress and your shoes laid out, and you’re ready to go to the party, but Daddy said, “No, you ain’t going.”

I stayed in seclusion for about a year. I didn’t even come outside. I was so hurt. I felt…robbed. I wouldn’t listen to the radio or anything. It wasn’t until 1978 before I sang again.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: Well, you know what? Yes—she was sad, but after you have plenty of time to think, after everything is all over, back in the day, we didn’t think that much about it because we were busy performing. But then, after a while, you begin to think about it, and you say, “Georgia, who wrote ‘Please Mr. Postman,’ that was her claim to fame was ‘Please Mr. Postman,’ because none of us could write anything like that.” But she didn’t understand that for a while.

Georgia Dobbins, The Marvelettes: Gladys had a lead voice and the rest of them didn’t. When my dad refused to sign for me, I got Gladys and told her, “You’ve got to sing lead on this song.”

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: I do remember that the session was long and then, on top of that, Gladys had to sing the lead because Georgia wasn’t any longer there. Then the background—Wyanetta, Georgeanna, and myself…we, and Wanda—because when Georgia left, Gladys took and recruited Wanda Young—so that means the four of us would be back there singing the background and Gladys would be singing the lead. Marvin Gaye played the drums. It was a long, long day.

Martha Reeves, The Vandellas: I think Gladys Horton gave her heart and soul, saying, “There must be some word today / from my boyfriend who’s so far away / please, Mister Postman, look and see / if there’s a letter in your bag for me.”

The next thing that we knew “Please Mr. Postman” was number one on the Billboard chart.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: Then the rest of it almost was history.

Brian Holland, songwriter: Let me tell you something—I was so elated when I first heard it on the radio. The Black station first started playing it. Then it became so popular, on CKLW—that was a big fifty-watt station at that time; it was the biggest station—they started playing it. That’s when it erupted. It became huge. I mean, that was the most exciting time for me as a songwriter to hear that song on the radio. Can you imagine? I mean, Jesus, it was like a miracle. It was a miracle. I mean, for me, as a songwriter, to hear that?

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: The next thing that we knew “Please Mr. Postman” was number one on the Billboard chart.

Billy Vera, musician: Don’t forget—the audience for rock and roll had now grown up to the point where they were out of high school. Even though there was no war on yet, a lot of boys went off to the draft. And so there were a lot of songs about soldiers—soldiers going away and the girl waiting at home for them.

Brian Holland, songwriter: Motown’s first big record was “Please Mr. Postman.”

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: Really to be truthful. . . when our record hit number one, they were not ready. They went and began to scurry around, trying to find people to do this and do that, and all of a sudden they made it seem like it was really, really big. But Motown was not as big as they wanted people to believe it was.

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: Everything happened so fast. It was like one-two-three-four. The talent show, the recording of the record, the release date of the song, the date it hit the number one spot on Billboard—all in the same year of 1961.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: But then they had five little Black girls from the suburbs of Detroit that took them there a little bit faster than they were ready for.

Marc Taylor, music writer: Motown needed to milk “Please Mr. Postman” as much as it could in order to generate some much-needed cash for the company.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: Motown had a tour that went out and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles were the head-liners, and Mary Wells was on it. People began to start chanting—they wanted The Marvelettes. They caused so much noise, Berry called back and talked to Mrs. Edwards, which was his sister, to get us out there. Because if we didn’t come out there, there would be five other girls that they would take and announce them as The Marvelettes. Mrs. Edwards told us that.

The album had a picture of a mailman, but our picture wasn’t anywhere on it, because during that time, Black people weren’t allowed to put their pictures on it, because the prejudices of some white people. We couldn’t have our pictures on the front cover, I knew that.

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: Berry Gordy wanted The Marvelettes to quit school because we had a hot record out, people wanted to see us, and at the time, Motown was able to sell more records when people could see us.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: All of us began to start thinking that we need to get it together and go out there. Because if we didn’t go out there to sing the song that we made, Berry would get somebody who would. We definitely didn’t want anybody else going out there to be singing any song that we had made, so we all got together and began to pack our little rags and then we left. We went to Washington, DC; that’s where our first major gig was.

Romeo Phillips, The Marvelettes’ principal: George Edwards, who was married to Berry Gordy’s sister Esther, came to the school right after the girls, on their own, made “Please Mr. Postman,” and he was encouraging them to drop out of school. In fact, I got on him because he did not stop by the office first. He just came into the building and walked straight back to the music room. He was talking to the girls, and they were expressing some ambivalence about drop- ping out of school. I think this was near the time they were about to graduate.

My experience in show business. One hit does not a career make, and I was raising hell with Edwards. We belonged to the same fraternity. He was saying, “You have to strike while the iron’s hot.” And I remember very vividly telling him, “You can strike while the iron’s hot, but unless the iron’s plugged in, it’s going to get cool.”

I know they faced pressure from George Edwards and he went to the parents and the guardians of the girls and told them this is a chance of a lifetime, that they could always go back to school but they couldn’t always have the chance. Once the record is out, they’ll promote it…the usual things that a promoter says.

The album had a picture of a mailman, but our picture wasn’t anywhere on it, because during that time, Black people weren’t allowed to put their pictures on it, because the prejudices of some white people.

Gladys Horton, The Marvelettes: Mrs. Edwards and her husband became legal guardians of me. I was an orphan so early in my life, that it wasn’t until I met her that I found out my real birth date, my middle name, my mother’s and father’s names, and place of birth. I had to send off for my birth certificate for the courts to acknowledge and sign the Edwards on as my legal guardians over my business and money affairs. That knowledge opened up a brand-new door for me. I discovered part of my roots and where I came from, the West Indies.

Katherine Anderson The Marvelettes: Because Gladys was in foster care, and George Edwards was in the House, or something [Michigan state legislator]. They took Gladys and made her a ward of the court. That means that they would have to care for her and watch after her. But anyway, they made sure that the money and stuff was right, or whatever they did, and—because I was only sixteen years old then—all I can do is speculate.

Romeo Phillips, The Marvelettes’ principal: I tried to get the girls to stay in school. We did not want the girls to be caught out there with no marketable skill. But then George Edwards went by their homes and talked about striking while the iron’s hot. I will never for- give him for that—he’s dead now. I’m very disappointed in him and I’m sure that fate would have taken a different turn for those young ladies had they stayed in school and graduated. That would’ve served as a platform for them to move on to something else if show business didn’t pan out.

Katherine Anderson, The Marvelettes: Unfortunately, that was the choice we had. We had a choice of staying in school or going out there and doing our record. So, why, if you were so family-oriented, would you think in terms of sending five other girls out there? Because the public doesn’t know what The Marvelettes look like anyway.

At sixteen years old, how could I know? How could any of us? Georgeanna was sixteen, Wyanetta was sixteen. We had the choice of going out there or staying in school, and all of us ended up making the choice—we made the record, we made it popular, and we were going out there and representing ourselves.


Excerpted from But Will You Love Me Tomorrow?: An Oral History of the ’60s Girl Groups by Laura Flam and Emily Sieu Liebowitz. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Books, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

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