One of Motown's "girls" goes political

Councilwoman Martha Reeves uses her voice to help her hometown.

Published January 19, 2006 10:18PM (EST)

The music of Motown was the soundtrack of my childhood. It poured out of transistor radios and off 45s all over the ghetto, from the neatly trimmed lawns to the ramshackle, cement-moored apartments. It lifted everybody up.

But as I grew, the Motown sound seemed to fall flat, with so many of its brightest stars self-destructing into addictions of alcohol, drugs, food even, succumbing to the pressures of early fame and wealth that seemed to distance the artists from the very community that made them stars.

At 64, Martha Reeves is a survivor of those pressures and living proof that women can transform their lives even while the words "starlet" or "girl group" remain on their résumés. As the former lead vocalist of one of Motown's most famous female trios, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Reeves rose to fame with memorable hits such as "(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Street." Though older now, she still belts like the best of 'em, maintaining a full touring schedule that includes a performance of the national anthem at an upcoming Detroit Pistons game.

But according to an article in today's New York Times, these days Reeves is more likely to burst into song from behind her desk as a newly elected councilwoman of the Detroit City Council.

Reeves' election was an uphill battle, and not surprisingly, people did not take her seriously at first. Her platform focused on improving public safety by protecting the city's police and fire departments from budget cuts and attracting tourism to Detroit. Not least on her list of goals is to see the city pay homage to the cultural force that Motown and its performers represented in their heyday. Now in office, Reeves admits she still has a lot to learn, but hopes her fame will help her contribute to her hometown, which has, for years, been in need of creative leadership. "I'm not ever going to be a politician," she says. In fact, I don't think I even like politicians." Apparently, her voice is as refreshingly honest as it is beautiful.

By Cecelie Berry

Cecelie S. Berry is the editor of "Rise Up Singing: Black Women Writers on Motherhood," which received an American Book Award for 2005.

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