THE SUPREMES! live at The Roostertail, Detroit 1976.
(L-R) Susaye Greene, Mary Wilson & Scherrie Payne
Mable John, Motown's first solo female artist signed by Berry Gordy, has died at 91
Special to The Detroit News - August 26th 2002
She sounded too sultry and adult for Motown, where she was the first solo female artist Berry Gordy signed, but Mable John fit in just fine at Stax Records in Memphis, where she parlayed her world-weary sound into a hit with Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” in 1966.
Mable John, the eldest of Detroit’s musical John family, died Thursday in Los Angeles, according to her nephew Kevin John. She was 91. “We loved her and she was a kind person,” said Kevin of his aunt, who in recent years fed the homeless via her Los Angeles charity.
In recent years Mable appeared as blues singer Bertha Mae in “Honeydripper” (2007), as well as the documentary “20 Feet from Stardom” (2013), in which she discussed her years as Ray Charles’ head Raelette.
But for years, she was best known as the older sister of R&B legend Little Willie John, whose stardom predated hers.
Mable was born Nov. 3, 1930, in Bastrop, Louisiana, to Mertis and Lillie John. The Johns moved to Arkansas and then, in 1941, to Detroit, where they sought a foothold in the booming wartime city.
By the mid ‘40s Mertis and Lillie had a family of nine children; three sisters and six brothers, living in a housing project at Six Mile and Dequindre. Those brothers included William Edward John, who as Little Willie John, started touring as one of the top R&B attractions of the day as a teenager, in the mid-‘50s. Willie took big sister Mable on the road, where she opened the show for him. (Willie John died in 1968).
Mable was already working for a Gordy — Bertha, Berry’s industrious mother — at her Friendship Mutual Insurance Co. in Detroit. Bertha told Mable about her son Berry, the aspiring music producer, and urged her to look him up.
Soon Mable was driving Gordy around town to appointments. In return, he coached her as a singer, taking her to see the top divas of the day when they played Detroit. Those stars included Dakota Staton, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan — and Billie Holiday.
Gordy told Mable to study Dakota Staton, especially. As she told me in 1994, for my book “Women of Motown”: “He said, ‘I want you to watch how she walks onstage. I want you to watch how she backs away from the mic at the end of her song. I want you to watch how she takes a bow, I want you to watch how she uses her hands. You watch her, because she’s very classy.’”
John absorbed those lessons avidly, and well into her ‘80s enjoyed her image as a glamorous, fur-clad diva with a smooth onstage delivery.
“(Berry) started out as a writer and a coach for new artists,” Mable said. “He would coach us, he would play piano for us… He played for years until he just decided that he was a crutch for me… The last time he played for me was the last show Billie Holiday did in Detroit (in 1959, at the Flame Showbar), just two or three weeks before she passed away. He put me on that show with her.”
Mable spoke at length with Holiday between shows, and was warned to stay away from narcotics by the fading star. “She let me know, that was a route that I should take a detour from. And she would say things like, ‘You have to know when you’ve done enough of anything, and you have to have guts enough to stop, on your own.’”
Mable had already been working for Gordy as an assistant for several years, and recorded for him, but her first release on Tamla was “Who Wouldn’t Love a Man Like That” in 1960.
By 1966, she was signed to Stax in Memphis.
“Motown was just turning so pop, and I knew I wasn’t pop, but the writers were writing for success…Berry was so busy with the business, and I found myself without a writer to concentrate on me as Berry had concentrated on me."Despite her departure, she and Gordy remained good friends. “We would always be family,” Mable said of Gordy, and Motown.
John’s life wasn’t always easy, but it made good fodder for blues songs. Her Hayes-Porter penned hit “Your Good Thing” came about after the songwriters heard her talking about her then-husband, whom she’d caught fooling around with one of her cousins.
In 1968 her brother Little Willie John died tragically while imprisoned in Washington state. Mable returned to Detroit to support the family and help organize his funeral and a memorial concert. Her nephews, Willie’s sons Kevin and Keith John, later became recording artists as well (Keith still sings backup for Stevie Wonder).
In 1969 Mable went on the road with Ray Charles, as the lead Raelette. She toured for years with him, until she quit one day in 1977, when she says “God told me to go home!” The mother of four did, and became a practicing minister and pastor of her own church in Los Angeles. Her mission with her charity Joy Community Outreach to End Homelessness was feeding and clothing the homeless.
Mable also collaborated with David Ritz on a series of novels about a gospel singer, including “Sanctified Blues.”
Detroit air personality David Washington said: “Mable was one of the great unsung females in the music industry. She had a lot to give. And she’s the one who brought me into the John family.” Washington will play parts of a four-hour interview he did with Mable in 2003, on his radio show “20 Grand Revue” Monday on WPON at 1:30 p.m.
Mable John was married four times, and had four sons: Jesse, Joel, Otis and Lemuel. Lemuel survives her, as well as a number of grandchildren. Memorial information is pending.
You can reach Susan Whitall at: susanwhitall.com
47 years ago, today!
The Supremes on "SOUL TRAIN" episode #146 aired August 23rd 1975. The episode was dedicated to The Supremes and the Ladies performed their current single "He's My Man" and several other cuts from their current self titled 1975 album "The Supremes."
#FLOSFRIDAY - Celebrating 36 years of "SUPREME EXCELLENCE" with The Former Ladies of The Supremes- Looking back with Scherrie, Lynda & Sundray
#FLOSFRIDAY - on Friday's we celebrate the 36 year history and legacy of The Former Ladies of The Supremes, we call it "FLOS FRIDAY." Today we are looking back to the early 1990's when the trio consisted of Former Supremes, Scherrie Payne & Laurence with Sundray Tucker. This lineup sang together 1992-1996.
TRIVIA: Did you know that Sundray Tucker is Lynda Laurence's older sister? Also, Lynda and Sundray toured together as members 0f Stevie Wonder's backing group "The Third Generation." Lynda Laurence left Stevie Wonder in 1972 to join The Supremes.
#ThrowbackThursday June 24th 2015- Looking back with former Supremes Jean Terrell, Scherrie Payne, Susaye Greene & Mary Wilson. The ladies were at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, CA celebrating "AN EVENING WITH MARY WILSON." The evening included a discussion with Mary Wilson and the debut of THE SUPREMES' gowns exhibit at the Grammy Museum. #KeepTheMusicPlaying #TheSupremes #Supremes #FormerLadiesOfTheSupremes #Grammy #GrammyMuseum #MaryWilson #JeanTerrell #ScherriePayne #SusayeGreene
#FLOSFRIDAY - Celebrating 36 years of "SUPREME EXCELLENCE" with the Former Ladies of The Supremes. - Scherrie, Lynda & Jean with Lawrence Payton of The Four Tops @1991
#FLOSFRIDAY - on Friday's we celebrate the 36 year history and legacy of The Former Ladies of The Supremes, we call it "FLOS FRIDAY." Today we are looking back to 1991 when the trio consisted of Former Supremes, Scherrie Payne, Lynda Laurence & Jean Terrell.
Here the Ladies (L-R) Lynda Laurence, Jean Terrell & Scherrie Payne are pictured with Lawrence Payton of THE FOUR TOPS. The Ladies were on tour in the U.K alongside THE FOUR TOPS, THE TEMPTATIONS, MARTHA REEVES & THE VANDELLAS, THE MARVELETTES' GLADYS HORTON & EDWIN STARR as part of the "Giants Of Motown" tour 1991.
Enjoy this rare photo from our F.L.O.S. Archives. #KeepTheMusicPlaying #FormerLadiesOfTheSupremes
As part of the incomparable songwriting team Holland–Dozier–Holland, the Detroit native co-wrote some of Motown’s most enduring songs.
BY:EMILY ZEMLER & JON BLISTEIN
Lamont Dozier, the Motown songwriter and producer who helped craft hits for artists such as the Supremes, the Four Tops, and the Isley Brothers, has died. He was 81.
The news was confirmed by his son, Lamont Dozier Jr., who wrote on Instagram, “Rest in Heavenly Peace, Dad!” A cause of death has not yet been announced.
Dozier was born in Detroit on June 16, 1941 and launched his career in music as a singer, performing with various local doo-wop groups like the Romeos and the Voicemasters. In 1962, he signed to the Berry Gordy’s fledgling Motown records as an artist, producer, and songwriter, and quickly found himself working with brothers Brian and Eddie Holland. The trio — which came to be known as Holland-Dozier-Holland, or just H-D-H — turned out a few deep cuts during their year together, but generation-defining success came soon enough.
In 1963, Holland-Dozier-Holland scored their first Top 10 hits with Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave” and “Quicksand,” as well as the Miracles’ “Mickey’s Monkey.” While Eddie Holland primarily crafted the lyrics and vocal productions for the songs they wrote, Dozier and Brian Holland served as the team’s main producers and arrangers, working closely with Motown’s house band, the Funk Brothers, to fine-tune the label’s signature blend of R&B and pop (with some grand orchestral flourishes thrown in for good measure).
In 1964, the songwriting and the sound came together perfectly with the vocal talent and star power when Holland-Dozier Holland partnered with the Supremes. That year H-D-H crafted three iconic Number Ones for the girl group, “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” and “Come See About Me.”
In a 2003 interview with Rolling Stone, Dozier said it was after “Where Did Our Love Go” hit Number One that he knew H-D-H had a special kind of chemistry: “Brian and I used to have lunch at that little walk-up, and once that wheel started rolling with ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ I said, ‘Man, we’ve stumbled up into something — are you feeling this?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m feeling it too.’ I said, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I don’t think this thing is going to stop.’ … It was like being at the carnival and hitting that bell, Bam! Number One! Bam! Number One! Bam! Number One! When we weren’t doing that with the Supremes, we were over here with the Four Tops. Bam! It was surreal.”
H-D-H scored seven more Number Ones with the Supremes, bringing their total with the group to 10 in the brief period between 1964 and 1967. On top of that, the trio was also penning and producing timeless hits for other Motown favorites, like Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and the Four Tops’ “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There.”
Recalling the making of the latter track in The Wall Street Journal in 2013, Dozier remembered how they encouraged Four Tops vocalist Levi Stubbs to tap into his inner-Bob Dylan while recording the lyrics. “Back in ’66, we were listening a lot to Bob Dylan. He was the poet then, and we were inspired by his talk-singing style on ‘Like a Rolling Stone.’ Dylan was something else — a guy we looked up to. We loved the complexity of his lyrics and how he spoke the lines and sang them in places. We wanted Levi to shout-sing ‘Reach Outs’’s lyrics — as a shout-out to Dylan.”
In 1967, however, Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown over a contract dispute with label founder Berry Gordy. Subsequent litigation wasn’t settled until the late Seventies, but during that time, the trio kept launched their own labels, Invictus and Hot Wax, and kept making music. In 1970, they scored hits with the Chairmen of the Board’s “Give Me Just a Little More Time” and Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold.” And Dozier also started making music himself again, releasing a handful of high-charting R&B tunes including 1972’s “Why Can’t We Be Lovers” (which was credited to Dozier and Brian Holland), and 1973’s “Trying to Hold on to My Woman.”
Dozier return to the top of the charts one more time in the late Eighties when he partnered with Phil Collins to co-write and produce, “Two Hearts,” which appeared on the soundtrack for the film Buster. Along with hitting Number One, the song was nominated for Best Original Song at the Oscars, shared the Golden Globe in the same category with Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” (from Working Girl), and notched Dozier his first Grammy nomination and win (for Best Song Written Specifically For A Motion Picture Or Television).
In 1988, Holland-Dozier-Holland was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, while two years later they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In a 2019 interview with the Detroit Free Press, as Dozier prepared to publish his memoir, aptly titled, How Sweet It Is, the songwriter reflected on his work and the remarkable legacy of the music he helped create. “Everything I write, I give credit to God, the master muse,” he said. “I thank him for letting me put my name on his music. That’s how I started [regarding] it. I don’t read music, and I can’t write it either. I did it all by ear and feeling when I sat down at the piano… But I still hear that stuff over and over. It still hasn’t let up. They still play that music, man. It’s amazing. I thought some of it wouldn’t last a day. But it’s been here for 60 years, and that’s a great feeling — all over the world.
#FLOSFRIDAY - Celebrating 36 years of "SUPREME EXCELLENCE" with The Former Ladies of The Supremes. Looking back with Scherrie, Lynda & Joyce 2014.
#FLOSFRIDAY - on Friday's we celebrate the 36 year history and legacy of The Former Ladies of The Supremes, we call it "FLOS FRIDAY." Today we are looking back with Scherrie Payne & Lynda Laurence, Formerly of The Supremes with Joyce Vincent. This lineup of F.L.O.S sang together 2009-2017.
On June 25th 2014 Scherrie, Lynda & Joyce attended Rhonda Ross' show at Vitello's Jazz and Supper Club in Studio City, CA. The Ladies enjoyed a wonderful dinner and fabulous show! Rhonda Ross-Kendrick is the daughter of Diana Ross & Berry Gordy Jr. #FormerLadiesOfTheSupremes #KeepTheMusicPlaying #Supremes #FLOS #FormerSupremes.
(L-R) Joyce Vincent with Scherrie Payne & Lynda Laurence, Formerly of THE SUPREMES.