Paula Anderson, the lead singer of the Marvelettes, took time out of her busy schedule to talk to this journalist about her upcoming show at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts as the opening act for Dennis Edwards and the Temptations Revue on Saturday, April 9 at 8 p.m.
The Marvelettes have a long history, starting back in the 1960s in Detroit, when Gladys Horton and Georgia Dobbins put together a group of four singers in high school. Dobbins had to leave the group due to family issues early on, but others like Wanda Rogers, Georgeanna Tillman, Wyanetta Cowart and Katherine Anderson joined later, as did others.
“Being in Detroit and around the home of music, just about everyone thought they wanted to be part of the music biz back then,” said Anderson. “I personally started in the group in 2000. I went to an audition. I went in thinking I knew it all. Once I got there, I thought, ‘This is Motown, and to be a part of that is something special.’ So I did what I needed to do. I went to several auditions and I finally got through the door, and it’s been wonderful ever since.
“Motown was very particular about who carried on the Marvelettes name. As Marvelettes, the others and myself have made sure to keep the integrity of the music. I learned a lot from the lead singer at the time I started with the group. Thus, when she stepped down I was able to step up and take her place. Motown is loved universally. It shaped music in a very big way,” she said. Anderson is currently performing nightly with the Marvelettes in Las Vegas at the Rio Hotel’s Crown Theatre, where they share a bill with the Platters and the Coasters, in between trips out on the road.
The Marvelettes made history as the very first girl group selected by Berry Gordy to sing for Motown. One could say that the Marvelettes set the tone for girl groups who followed, like the Supremes and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. The public snapped up over a million copies of the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman,” which became their first big hit. The Marvelettes had an eight-year run on the Billboard Music charts, scoring 23 Billboard Hot 100 singles. Of those hits, three were top pop singles, nine were top R&B singles, and their debut song was No. 1 on both charts.
Smokey Robinson wrote some of the Marvelette’s hit songs. “Smokey Robinson wrote ‘Don’t Mess with Bill’ and ‘The Hunter Captured by the Game,’” said Anderson. “With Motown it was about being a family. Artists from the label worked with other artists. Marvin Gaye also worked with us. Many may not know that Marvin played the drums–he played drums on some of our songs. Oftentimes various Motown artists became part of each other’s projects,” explained the Marvelettes’ lead singer.
“We have been abroad–it’s been wonderful to have the opportunity to travel. We went to Austria, Canada and Mexico. Being part of the Marvelettes has afforded me that opportunity. I am fortunate that my husband is in the business, so he understands. It makes it all the more wonderful to come home to him after traveling.”
The current Marvelettes are Anderson (lead), originally from Queens, who has been with the group for 11 years. California’s Farah Melanson has been with the Marvelettes for eight years and New Yorker Tonja Foster has been with the group for eight years as well. Other singers who sing with the Marvelettes are Deborah Sherman and Annette Bland McCoy.
“We have a wonderful rapport together. When you are out on the road you look out for one another. We get out there and do our jobs while having fun at the same time,” said Anderson of her relationship with her fellow Marvelettes. “I love the music and the fact that we are still out there performing this type of music. There is a big demand for it. We are always happy to see young people at our concerts who come out to hear our music with their parents and grandparents.”
The Marvelettes will be singing the song “Beachwood 4-5789” (1962) for the audience at the Lehman Center for the Performing Arts. “You know, some of the men in the audience have approached us and said they actually called the Beachwood number. I think some of these gentlemen expected us to answer. I can’t tell you where Beachwood 4-5789 will connect, but it’s definitely a phone number,” chuckled Anderson.
“We love the grace, romance and elegance of the 1960s era. When we are on stage we dress from the era. We wear the big hair wigs, the jewelry and ’60s clothes. It is a lot of fun getting ready for the show. We even do some of the dances. We do a skit with the men in the audience when we sing our song ‘Don’t Mess with Bill.’ We love our shows. We interact with the audience and get a lot of feedback from our audiences after the show, telling us how much fun they had.”
Those interested in tickets for the show on Saturday, April 9 can call the Lehman Center box office at (718) 960-8833 or go online to www.LehmanCenter.org. The Lehman Center for the Performing Arts is located at 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West in the Bronx, and parking is free.