RIP - Gladys Horton
Motown lost one of its family members yesterday. Gladys Horton, a co-founder of the 1960's girl group the Marvelettes, has died at age 66.
Horton died Wednesday at a nursing home in Sherman Oaks, CA (near Los Angeles), where she had been recovering from a stroke, her son Vaughn Thornton reported to the press. Mr. Thornton told the New York Times his mother’s birthday as May 30, 1945, actually making her 65 at her death.
The New York Times reported that, "Most biographical sources say she was born in Detroit or in Inkster, but Mr. Thornton said she was born in Gainesville, Fla. By the time she was nine months old, her son said, she was an orphan and consigned to foster care, growing up mostly in different towns in Michigan. Her full name was Gladys Catherine Horton. She was married once and divorced, and had three sons. Besides Mr. Thornton, one other son, Sammy Coleman, survives her, along with two grandchildren."
Horton was a student and active glee club member at Inkster High School in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, MI when she recruited three of her classmates — Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman and Juanita Cowart — as well as a friend who had recently graduated, Georgia Dobbins, and formed a quintet they called "The Casinyets," short for "Can't Sing Yet." The group entered a singing contest where the first prize was an audition for Motown Records. They didn't win.
However, the group still scored an audition. The group needed an original song for their audition and Dobbins rewrote her friend William Garrett's blues song in a pop style and "Please Mr. Postman" was born. The song's writing credit is mysterious due to the passage of time, but various releases credit the song to a total of five individuals: Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, Robert Bateman as writers. Each likely had a small role in the song's eventual success.
Motown head Berry Gordy, Jr. changed the name of the group to the Marvelettes and assigned Brian Holland and Robert Bateman to produce their first record. The Marvelettes recorded their vocals as the Funk Brothers, the Motown house band that included Marvin Gaye on drums, recorded the music. Dobbins had left the group due to an ill mother and her father's wishes to have her at home. By default, Horton was left to sing the lead vocals on the song including the unforgettable line “De-liver de let-ter, de sooner de bet-ter.” Horton was still a teenager!
Released as a single (Tamla 54046) on August 21, 1961, "Please Mr. Postman" hit No. 1 on Dec. 11, 1961, after three months on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song was the first No. 1 hit record for Motown Record Corporation, which had just started two years earlier. The label would become known as Hitsville USA as 110 Top 10 hits from 1961-1971. The Beatles recorded several covers including "Please Mr. Postman" and two other Motown hits for their second album With The Beatles featuring John Lennon on lead vocal. The song would later be recorded in 1975 by the Carpenters, for whom it was also a No. 1 hit.
During their successful period, the Marvelettes also scored hits with "Beachwood 4-5789," "Don't Mess With Bill" and "Too Many Fish in the Sea." Their other popular recordings include, "Playboy," “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" and "Twistin' Postman."
By the mid-1960s, the British Invasion changed landscape of popular music in United States. The era of the Doo-Wop groups began to wane and the success of the Marvelettes was surpassed by other popular all-girl groups including label mates The Supremes and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Furthermore, the guitar driven Rock 'n Roll groups from Britain and the United States writing and performing their own original material worked their way into the charts. Replaced as the group's lead singer in 1965, Horton left the Marvelettes in 1967 when she became pregnant with her first child. The group continued recording until the early 1970's and finally disbanded.
"Gladys was a very, very special lady, and I loved the way she sang with her raspy, soulful voice," Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement. "We will all miss her, and she will always be a part of the Motown family."