Feature

Reeves’ rough days on the road

Martha Reeves, who with Martha & the Vandellas scored such Motown hits as “Heat Wave” and “Dancing in the Street,” said the movie Dreamgirls really missed the mark.

For Martha Reeves, there was little glamour during the heyday of Motown, but plenty of fear, says Lisa Robinson in Vanity Fair. The movie Dreamgirls and other depictions of the iconic Detroit music genre really miss the mark, says Reeves, who with Martha & the Vandellas scored such hits in the 1960s as “Heat Wave” and “Dancing in the Street.” In truth, the pay was lousy and the conditions on the road horrendous—especially in the South. “We played horrible places on the chitlin circuit, not that dreamland they showed in the movie,” she says. The racism was terrifying. Once, she recalls, a gas station owner pointed a shotgun in her face when she got off the bus to use a restroom. “He was right there with the gun saying, ‘Don’t another one of you niggers get off that bus.’ We said, ‘We want to use the restroom.’ But he called the sheriff and said, ‘These niggers are trying to take over my filling station.’ He didn’t know we were down there to make music. He thought we were Freedom Riders.” And yet, Reeves says the hatred often melted away when the band hit the stage. “When we started singing, people would change. Once we sang the music, people would turn into warm human beings—as opposed to people putting the dogs on you and chasing you around with billy clubs.”

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