Picks and Pans Review: Dancing in the Streets: Confessions of a Motown Diva

updated 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/12/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Martha Reeves and Mark Bego

This is what Martha Reeves has to say about touring with a 1991 soul-revival show that featured ringer groups covering Motown hits: "Thank goodness there is only one Martha Reeves because without me there is no Martha and the Vandellas. I am really irritated by people pretending they were real Motown artists or real members of classic groups they never had any part of creating. Oh, well, that's show business, I guess—like it or not."

And like it or not, that's the kind of self-serving rant that dampens these not-so-confessional confessions. What Reeves delivers here is the Cliffs Notes of her life: Humble beginnings in Detroit, where she started singing at age 3; a secretarial job at Motown in 1961 that led to a shot in the studio singing backup for Marvin Gaye and subbing for an absent Mary Wells; and, eventually, grooming and star treatment from Motown mogul Berry Gordy. Reeves recalls sitting in his car outside her parent's overcrowded house, while Gordy, whom she calls "my knight," thrilled her with tales of a golden future.

For a while it was. By 1964, Martha and the Vandellas were certified Motown divas. It's not clear from Bego's bland narrative why Reeves eventually turned to drugs, though it was surely related to Gordy's shifting his focus to the woman Martha calls Diane, using the ex-Supreme's birth name as a dig. (Gordy saw the more conventionally pretty Ross, with her toothy smile and little-girl coo, as Motown's ultimate ticket into the bigger world of movies and TV.) Reeves, a more powerful, hard-edged soul singer, became one of the also-rans.

Reeves give superficial mention to a number to topics—the son she bore out of wedlock, health problems, her romantic and financial highs and lows—that will frustrate readers who want to know more. All too often, in fact, she shrugs off revealing details with a maddening airiness. Oh, well, maybe that's show business. (Hyperion, $22.95)


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