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10 Unsung Heroes Of Motown: The Funk Brothers, The Velvelettes & More

The Funk Brothers

Photo: L. Busacca/WireImage via Getty Images

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10 Unsung Heroes Of Motown: The Funk Brothers, The Velvelettes & More

To celebrate Motown's 60th anniversary ahead of Motown 60: A GRAMMY Celebration airing on CBS on April 21, we're highlighting 10 of the label's secret weapons

GRAMMYs/Apr 16, 2019 - 08:30 pm

When we talk about the iconic Motown Records, there are a slew of legendary artists whose names come to mind: Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Supremes, The Four Tops. But—in addition to the superstars who helped cement the Detroit label's sound and launched black music into the U.S. mainstream pop landscape—there are plenty of unsung heroes who contributed to its vast legacy, many whom are at the foundation of the Motown sound.

Whether session musicians like The Funk Brothers and The Andantes, who played or sang on many of the best-known Motown hits, or The Velvelettes, who simply put out a few minor hits worthy of revisiting, the lesser-known artists associated with Berry Gordy and company are equally deserving of recognition. So to celebrate Motown's 60th anniversary ahead of Motown 60: A GRAMMY Celebration (which will air on CBS on April 21), we're highlighting 10 of the label's secret weapons.

The Funk Brothers

Motown's house band, hand-picked by Berry Gordy, played on many of the label's most iconic hits—including Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," The Temptations' "My Girl," The Supremes' "Baby Love," Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)," and Smokey Robinson's "The Tears of a Clown"—but the group of 13 session musicians didn't receive their due credit until much later. While at Motown, they would often moonlight for other labels to supplement their income (notably playing on Jackie Wilson's 1967 "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," and when the label moved to Los Angeles in 1972, the Funk Brothers were relieved of their duties. Fortunately, a 2002 documentary, Standing In The Shadows of Motown, shined a light on their legacy and in 2004 they were awarded a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award.

The Andantes

Like the Funk Brothers, you can hear The Andantes on many of your favorite Motown hits. The trio—composed of Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow and Louvain Demps—provided back-up vocals on five No. 1 singles for the label ("My Guy" by Mary Wells, "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" and "Reach Out I'll Be There" by the Four Tops, "Love Child" by Diana Ross & The Supremes, and "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye). But their tenure at Motown includes far more than just those tracks; they sang on 16 Four Tops songs, 12 Martha & The Vandellas singles, eight Supremes recordings, 14 Marvelettes songs, five Temptations recordings and 15 Marvin Gaye singles. They released a single of their own, "(Like A) Nightmare," in 1964; though it was credited to The Andantes, it featured lead vocals from Ann Bogan of the Marvelettes.

Mable John

In 1959, Mable John became the first female artist signed to Motown's Tamla subsidiary. The blues vocalist released her first single for the label, "Who Wouldn't Love A Man Like That?," the following year, and unfortunately, it flopped around the same time more pop-influenced and radio-friendly Motown groups were beginning to take off. As a result, Berry Gordy decided to drop blues from the label, and he terminated her contract in 1962. She landed on her feet, however; after leaving Motown, she spent years as one of Ray Charles' Raelettes, and in 1966 she released Stay Out of the Kitchen on Stax Records and earned herself a hit with "Your Good Thing Is About To End," which peaked at No. 6 on the R&B chart.

The Originals

Often referred to as "Motown's best-kept secret," The Originals, like the Andantes, spent much of their career singing background vocals for other artists. They can be heard on tracks like Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life," Jimmy Ruffin's "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted," Edwin Starr's "War," and Marvin Gaye's "Just to Keep You Satisfied." In fact, it was Gaye who helped them branch out on their own, co-writing and producing two of their biggest singles, "Baby, I'm For Real" and "The Bells." Later in the '70s, they started experimenting with disco, earning themselves a No. 1 dance chart hit with 1976's "Down to Love Town."

The Velvelettes

The Velvelettes began recording for Motown in 1963, and though they never reached the same levels of success as their fellow girl groups The Supremes or Martha and the Vandellas, they were responsible for a few moderate hits for the label. 1964's "Needle in a Haystack" peaked at No. 45 on the Billboard Hot 100, and its follow-up, "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" topped out at No. 64. The group never released a full-length album, but in 1982 they enjoyed some newfound recognition when Bananarama covered "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'" (renaming it "Really Saying Something").

The Underdogs

Garage rock isn't necessarily what we think of when we think of Motown, but it absolutely is a huge part of Detroit's musical history, and The Underdogs were already hometown heroes by the time they signed to Motown's VIP label in the mid-'60s. The Underdogs were the first white band signed by Motown, and they recorded their own version of Chris Clark's "Love Gone Bad" in 1966 as well as a cover of The Temptations' "The Way You Do The Things You Do." They tapered off in 1967, but their legacy endures, earning them spots on several Nuggets compilations.

Eddie Holland

Eddie Holland had some early success as a solo artist for Motown with hits like "Jamie," but he suffered from terrible stage fright and eventually made the transition to working behind-the-scenes for the label. He became one-third of the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting and production team with his brother Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier. Eddie Holland served as the team's lyricist, writing 10 out of 12 of The Supremes' No. 1 singles as well as hits like "Heat Wave" by Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get A Witness" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" and the Four Tops' "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)." In 1988, the trio was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and two years later, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Syreeta Wright

Syreeta Wright—also known simply as Syreeta—began her career at Motown as a receptionist in 1965. She eventually worked her way up to singing on demos of Supremes songs before singing background for that girl group as well as Martha and the Vandellas. In 1968, she met labelmate Stevie Wonder, and the two co-wrote "It's A Shame" for The Spinners in 1969. Wright also co-wrote and sang background on Wonder's iconic "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)", and in 1970, the two married. They divorced two years later, but remained close collaborators, with Wonder producing her debut album, Syreeta, as well as its follow-up, 1974's Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta. She enjoyed success outside of Stevie Wonder as well, however; she collaborated with Billy Preston on the 1979 hit "With You I'm Born Again" and recorded an album of duets with Preston in 1981. Sadly, she passed away in 2004 after a battle with cancer.

Chris Clark

One of the few white artists to be signed to Motown at the time, Chris Clark earned hits with 1965's "Do Right Baby Do Right" and 1966's "Love's Gone Bad." In the early '70s, she served as an executive in Motown's Los Angeles-based Film and Television Production Division, and in 1972, she co-wrote the screenplay for Lady Sings The Blues, the Billie Holiday biopic starring Diana Ross. She earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Screenplay, while Ross received a Best Actress nomination.

The Elgins

The Elgins may have had a secondhand name (Berry Gordy wanted the group to use the moniker, which was the original name for The Temptations), but they were the first ones to record the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit "Heaven Must Have Sent You" in 1966. The song peaked at No. 50 on the US pop charts, but it later enjoyed cult success within the UK's Northern Soul scene, reaching No. 3 on the UK singles chart in 1971. Bonnie Pointer later recorded a version of the song in 1979. The group broke up in 1967, but their status as hidden gems remains.

"Motown 60: A GRAMMY Celebration" Set To Film On Feb. 12 In Los Angeles

Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

Rotimi

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Rotimi On Performing At ESSENCE Fest, Growing Up African-American & More

The Nigerian-American singer and actor sat down with the Recording Academy to talk about what inspired his latest album, 'Walk With Me'

GRAMMYs/Jul 8, 2019 - 10:04 pm

In 2015, Rotimi stepped into the New Orleans Superdome for the first time to experience the magic of ESSENCE Fest. Four years later, in 2019, the "Love Riddim" singer returned to the celebration as a performer, something he said was spoken into existence.

"Last year me and my manager had a conversation and I said, 'Listen, I'm going to be on the [ESSENCE] mainstage this year. 365 days later, we did it," Rotimi told the Recording Academy at the 25th annual ESSENCE Fest.

Rotimi, also an actor on Starz' "Power," has evolved since his last album, 2017's Jeep Music, Vol.1. The singer said he really hit home with its follow-up, the recently released Walk With Me, a project he worked hard for, putting in hours in the studio after filming on set.

"Walk With Me is the first time I actually felt like I was giving myself as an artist, and personally I feel like with everything else I have going on I wanted to show people that this is really what I do," he said. "I wanted people to understand who Rotimi is, who Rotimi was before, who I want to be and just understand my growth and the journey and my passion for what I do."

Part of why the album felt like such a representation of him is because it embodies beats of his African roots, something he said was very present growing up Nigerian-American. 

"I grew up with a lot of Fela Kuti and I grew up with Bob Marley," he said of his musical roots. "But I also grew up with Carl Thomas and Genuine and Usher, so there was a genuine mixture of who I am and what I've grown up to listen to. The actual Walk With Me project was a mixture of influences of Akon and Craig David."

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam

Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com

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Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors

Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it

GRAMMYs/Feb 13, 2019 - 04:05 am

Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.

McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award

The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.

"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."

With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

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Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards

Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category

GRAMMYs/Nov 20, 2019 - 06:28 pm

The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.

Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville                                                                        

 
This star-studded compilation album from 11-time GRAMMY nominee J. Cole and his Dreamville Records imprint features appearances from some of the leading and fastest-rising artists in hip-hop today, including label artists EARTHGANG, J.I.D, and Ari Lennox, plus rappers T.I, DaBaby, and Young Nudy, among many others. Recorded in Atlanta across a 10-day recording session, Revenge of the Dreamers III is an ambitious project that saw more than 300 artists and producers contribute to the album, resulting in 142 recorded tracks. Of those recordings, 18 songs made the final album, which ultimately featured contributions from 34 artists and 27 producers.

Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.

Championships – Meek Mill

In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.

i am > i was – 21 Savage

Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.

IGOR – Tyler, The Creator

The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.

The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae

Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.

Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

Rosalía 

Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

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Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour

El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances

GRAMMYs/Mar 20, 2019 - 12:25 am

Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.

El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.

 

RELATED: How Rosalia Is Reinventing What It Means To Be A Global Pop Star

"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.

Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork. 

Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist. 

Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.

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