You probably don’t know her name, but you’ve definitely heard her pitch perfect soprano vocals on countless classic hits by the late Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Four Tops, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, The Temptations, Kim Weston, Stevie Wonder and many other Motown legends that included five number one Billboard pop singles. Indeed, the entire ‘unsung recording’ discography legacy of Louvain Demps is virtually impossible to catalog.
Louvain Demps and her legendary soul sisters in song, Jackie Hicks and the late Marlene Barrow-Tate (also known as The Andantes) were probably Detroit’s best kept vocal secret for over a decade. Her first professional recording was as an original member of the session group The Rayber Voices (a combined name version of Berry Gordy and Raynoma Lyles-Gordy) with members Brian Holland and the late Robert Bateman, William ‘Sonny” Sanders and Raynoma Liles-Gordy. They sang background on Barrett’s Strong’s 1959 hit “Money (That’s What I Want).”
To commemorate this year’s Women’s History Month nationwide activities, an exciting exhibition honoring Miss Demps (and other phenomenal women from the area) opened March 1st in Douglasville, Georgia where she now lives. “We at the Douglas County Museum of History and Art are so proud to celebrate the accomplishments of our friend Louvain Demps,” said Operations Manager and Curator Susanne Hudson. Special thanks to Miss Hudson and Tour Guide Trisha Warren for making me feel so welcome during my recent visit to the museum.
The Andantes provided uncredited ‘sweetening’ backing vocals on thousands of songs recorded in ‘Studio A’ at historic Hitsville USA, but their names never appeared on any vinyl 45 records or album cover liner notes during the 1960’s. In fact, it took another couple of decades for them to receive limited royalties and name credits for their major contribution to the internationally famous ‘Sound of Motown.’
“I was so thrilled to be the only Andante requested to sing in the studio with (the late) Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson on “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Diana Ross”, Miss Demps told me during my exclusive interview for SoulMusic.com in her suburban Atlanta home. The song became Miss Ross’ first Grammy-nominated number one pop single as a solo artist.
The Supremes’ co-founding member, author and music rights activist (the late) Mary Wilson cited Louvain Demps as a ‘national treasure’. She also noted that The Andantes sang on 95% of every hit that came out of Motown. In 1969, many fans who bought the single, “Love Child” by Diana Ross and The Supremes, assumed it was the group’s newest member Cindy Birdsong singing that famous high note solo that opens the song.
Can you guess whose mysterious soprano voice it really was?
In 1972, The Andantes (along with Motown house band, The Funk Brothers) were finally recognized by name in print on the back cover of “Floy Joy”, an album by The Supremes produced by Smokey Robinson. In fact, these three female music trailblazers can also be prominently heard on almost all The Supremes’ recordings including the Grammy-nominated “Stop! In The Name of Love”, their fan favorite “Merry Christmas” album and all three “Magnificent Seven” duet projects with The Four Tops.
Louvain, Jackie and Marlene’s resume of songs includes but is definitely not limited to the following: “Bernadette” and Reach Out I’ll Be There” by The Four Tops; “My Baby Loves Me” (with The Four Tops) and “Jimmy Mack” by Martha and The Vandellas; “My Guy” by Mary Wells; “Its Growing” by The Temptations; “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” and “Don’t Mess With Bill” by The Marvelettes;“Hey Love” and “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder; “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and the groundbreaking “What’s Going On” album (with The Originals) by the late great Marvin Gaye.
We celebrate Louvain Demps, truly an ‘Unsung’ Motown pioneer for her essential musical contribution to countless recordings.
Black Entertainment Historian And Memorabilia Archivist