Marvelettes singer Wanda Young dies at 78, remembered for voice, wit

The Marvelettes

Wanda Young, co-lead singer of popular Motown group The Marvelettes, died Dec. 15. She was 78.

Meta Ventress told The New York Times in a story published Saturday that her mother died Dec. 15 in Garden City, Michigan, of complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Young and other members of the Marvelettes were teenagers when they recorded “Please Mr. Postman” for Berry Gordy Jr.’s Motown Records in 1961. The song became Motown’s first No. 1 pop hit.

Fellow Motown performers remembered Young for her distinctive voice, wit and stage presence.

“We were kids,” Motown singer Carolyn Crawford said, recalling her experiences with Young in the early 1960s. “We did a lot of record hops together, the Marvelettes and the Velvelettes. She was a pleasant, friendly person.”

Young was a student at Inkster High School when she replaced original Marvelette Georgia Dobbins, whose parents refused to sign off on her singing career. With all the right elements in place, the troupe scored a deal with Motown in 1961.

In August that year, the label released “Please Mr. Postman,” penned by Dobbins, and it steadily climbed the charts, peaking at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 on December 11, 1961, and remaining atop the R&B chart for seven weeks. Young sang lead on the B-side, the ballad “So Long, Baby.”

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Two years later, the Beatles would cover “Postman,” and in 1975, The Carpenters would take the song to the top spot once again.

“Postman” holds a unique place in music history as Motown’s first chart topper. Young performed background vocals on that first hit, but would sing lead on many subsequent Marvelettes songs, including “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” “You’re My Remedy,” “I’ll Keep Holding On,” “Locking Up My Heart,” “Too Many Fish in the Sea,” “My Baby Must Be a Magician” and the million-selling gold record “Don’t Mess With Bill,” written by Smokey Robinson.

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Robinson produced a solo album for Young in 1970. Motown management, however, felt it would market better as a Marvelettes release and titled it “Return of the Marvelettes,” despite no participation from the other group members. The record sold poorly, and in 1972, Young left the label, later recording in the 1980s for Motorcity Records, before reuniting with fellow Marvelette Gladys Horton, who sang lead on “Please Mr. Postman,” for the album “Marvelettes Now!”

Horton died in 2011 at 66. The group was nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 and 2015.

Crawford was part of a March 1990 concert held at Hotel Pontchartrain that featured Young and several more classic Motown performers. Young had endured multiple tragedies and hadn’t performed publicly in several years, Crawford said.

“We hadn’t seen her in so long,” Crawford told the Free Press. “And she was going through some rough times. But we all got together and made her up and everything, and she looked so pretty, and that Marvelette came right out of her. I saw the person she was back when we were doing those record hops, and she let us know the Marvelette she still was.”

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Singer Claudette Robinson, the first female artist signed to the Tamla/Motown label, as part of The Miracles, paid tribute to Young via Twitter:

“A very sad day for our @motown family and music fans all over the world. Wanda was a star on Earth and now she is a star in Heaven. Put on some #Marvelettes and turn it up.”

The Motown label also took to Twitter to remember Young:

“We are so saddened by the news of Wanda Young of the Marvelettes passing. What an impact she has had on the world of Classic Motown and the lives of so many. Her legacy will continue to live on.”

Contributing: Associated Press

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Wanda Young dies: Motown remembers Marvelettes singer for voice, wit