“Jimmy Mack! Jimmy Mack!! When are you Coming Back? My Jimmy Mack!
(Release 1967 – #10 in US peak charts, #1 US R & B, #21UK) was the hit Motown tune I heard on the phone while waiting to speak to Annette Beard-Helton. An original Vandella.
I had met the Original Vandellas at an outdoor performance commerating the Detroit Rebellion of 1967.
There on stage were two of the original Vandellas -Annette Beard-Helton,
and Rosalind Ashford -Holmes.
The excellent Roschelle Laughhunn leads the trio through the classic Motown hits all to recorded background music. Martha Reeves is a separate act.
An interview was set to meet two of the original Vandellas, Annette and Rosalind ( both age 74). Two lifelong friends at Annette’s apartment.
Detroiter natives, Annette and Rosalind began singing backup for the The Vels at age 17. The group composed four teenage women. The quartet backed Marvin Gay’s first hit single, Stubborn Kind of Fellow, Berry Gordy was impressed, signed them to the Gordy Label at Motown Records. “Berry Gordy asked us to come up with a new name for the group. We couldn’t think of one, so Berry called us the Vandellas” Annetta Helton noted. Quickly the original lead singer was replaced by Martha Reeves. In 1967 Motown personalized the act – they became Martha and the Vandellas.
In 1962 the Vandellas and a Motown stable of acts including (The Miracles, Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gay) toured the East and South by bus –“The Motor Town Review it was called. It was an adventure. We are all young and excited”. Annette commented,” we were girls from Detroit. We had never been down South, it was a shock to see Colored Entrance signs, having to stay in Black hotels, enter restaurants in the alley and drinking from blue painted drinking fountains. The bus driver was white. So when we need to stop at a store for aspirin, or whatever, he always went in to buy it”.
Rosalind noted: “The Review usually performed in a movie theatre or auditorium. Seating was segregated. Balcony usually blacks. But everyone danced. The law could not stop that.”
“I never really wanted to be a background singer.
But it was just so much fun. You got paid $5.00 for session work at Motown backing up Marvin or other acts.
Those first years of the Vandellas can not be replicated. It was the sound. Quicksand was the first Top 40 Hit. In 1963 the Vandellas record Heat Wave their first million-seller receiving a Grammy Award in 1999.
In 1964 Dancing In the Sreets became the signature Motown anthem. In the same year Annette left the entertainment business. She was married and had her first of two children.” I never wanted to be a backup singer. I wanted to be a nurse.” Annette continued paying the bills working in hospitals for the next 18 years.
Rosalind – “ I worked for the phone company. I saved vacation, sick time, personal leave to perform. Usually it was a weekend performance”. In 1969 she left the Vandellas.
In 2000 The Original Vandellas reformed and have performed sporadically.
Their contemporary performance still produces the same tone and energy as the original performances over fifty years ago.