Last week a dear friend in America contacted me about Martha Reeves being selected for a long overdue star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.  ‘Yeah, I know,’ I replied.  “It was publicised quite a bit over here but then the story went cold. Why?”   Well, she explained what had happened, which led to me checking out Martha’s website. In actual fact, Martha was selected to receive a star in 2021 but when it came to raising the required amount of money, it was alleged her manager at the time “dropped the ball”.   Chris Roe has now taken over the manager role, as he told the Detroit Free Press, “Martha’s former representation got in over their heads on this.  They didn’t realise how hard it would be and wasted a year of fundraising time.  Now we’re down to the wire.”  By that he means, the fundraising campaign which he has mounted, working with private donations and those from corporations, ends in June.  Subsequently, her two-year window will expire.

In an attempt to raise the money, Chris and Martha have asked fans to help raise the staggering $55,000 needed to cover the cost of the actual star itself.  Once achieved, he will then attempt to raise another $25,000 to fund a Hollywood reception, flights to Los Angeles and hotel accommodation.  Usually, the artist’s record company bank rolls all of this.  Sadly, for Martha, she’s on her own.  On his website Chris Roe further noted, “No amount is too small.  I’m sure you’ll agree that this honour that will be bestowed is very well deserved and long overdue. If we do not make a sizeable indentation to our goal, it is likely Martha’s Hollywood Star selection will be withdrawn, and we will have to start the nomination process all over again (which could take several years).”

When Martha first heard she had been selected she couldn’t have been more thrilled – “my wildest dreams are coming true” – and when she was assured by her manager at the time that funding was in place, she was confident the Hollywood ceremony would take place.  It was a heavy blow when she learned otherwise. As she’s been a dear friend of mine for decades, I posted a modest donation yesterday, and knowing how supportive Martha’s fans are – and perhaps someone will contact Berry Gordy with a request – they’ll help out if they can. Anyway, here’s the website – 

While talking about Martha, her name has been mentioned in another capacity.  Alongside Thelma Houston, Peabo Bryson, G C Cameron, Brook Benton, Dee Dee Warwick, Ruby Andrews, Dee Dee Sharp, and other celebrated singers, Dusty Springfield will be inducted into the National Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame during a ceremony on Sunday, 24 September at the Bridge Centre, in Detroit.  Tickets are $50.  Naturally, I’m absolutely thrilled, as I’m sure Dusty would have been.  However, to stand alongside her peers – while probably bringing her out in a cold sweat – would have been one of the most significant accolades in her career.  Facebook pages devoted to her have been celebrating for some days now and have put forward Martha’s name as the most perfect choice to accept the award on her late friend’s behalf.  We’ll see – but for the time being, congratulations to all the inductees from all of us here.

I bought a couple of books a few months back but didn’t get around to reading them until recently.  Sometimes life just gets in the way doesn’t it?  Anyway, the first is a rather quick read by Fran Heard-Maclin titled “I Remember Motown”.  Fran recalls Berry Gordy’s weed-picking parties on the vast lawn outside the front of Hitsville, dressing the building’s large window before an art director was employed, the company’s first picnic, their bowling team named the “Hitsville League”.  She also wrote about parties in Gwen Gordy’s house:  “Visiting her house was like stepping into another world to me. The house was exquisitely furnished.”

Fran Heard was Motown’s tape librarian, later being promoted to library director, a position she held for twenty-five years. “I was in charge of all of the company’s recording sessions, and there were hundreds,” she wrote. In actual fact, the figure was probably more like thousands as she also oversaw recorded tapes from the Golden World studios and Mowest’s studios in Hollywood. Her job entailed cataloguing and storing session reels, then to dispense them back and forth to the engineer or producer until the time was right for a song to be finally mixed, and if selected, to be released.

It wasn’t an easy job caring for the library as it covered many aspects, but she considered it a privilege to be part of almost every hit that was produced in the three studios.  Keeping some of the producers and engineers in hand was an ongoing problem though, she wrote, because they did not want to follow library rules.  So she gave them a hard time knowing that if a particular reel wasn’t logged and documented properly, it could be lost for ever.  Well, probably not literally, but you know what I mean. “When Mr Gordy was mixing a song that he considered to be a big hit, he would stay in the control room into the wee small hours…doing mix after mix. …So I saw the reels of tape that were used. There were times that he mixed a song hundreds of times.”

Fran pointed out that her book wasn’t written as a novel but rather an expression of her time spent with the company, with a few pages of personal pictures exclusive to this publication.  My only gripe is that there’s nothing to get your teeth into – so to speak – as the content is a short overview of memories, rather like a taster course in a restaurant.  This month Fran, who retired from Motown in 1986, published her second book “Motown From The Other Side” which, she said, shows that Motown wasn’t just a record company but also had a spiritual side.  Like her first book, this is published by Xlibris.

The other book was a more meaty read.  Written by Dennis Love and Stacey Brown, it was the authorised biography of Lula Hardaway, Stevie Wonder’s mum.  Titled “Blind Faith”, it was first published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster, so I’m sure many of you will have read it. Lula co-operated fully in what is the first authorised book into the early life of Stevie and his upbringing.  In a nut shell then, Lula struggled against extreme hardship and endured countless sacrifices while raising her son and his siblings.

Born in 1932 to teenager Mary Ellie Pitts, on a sharecroppers farm in Alabama, Lula Mae Hardaway was passed from relative to relative like an unwanted, unloved parcel.   From this tragic start in life, she was sent to Chicago where she met and married an older man, resulting in a life of abuse and prostitution.  It was sheer determination that pushed her on to make a decent life for herself and her children, and when one of her sons, Stevland Judkins, was blind from infancy, she faced further challenges.

However, those challenges were overcome by the child himself as he was loved by those around him for his charm, wit and intelligence. His mother also became aware that he had a certain specialness, which led to him as a ten-year-old singing gospel in church, and performing with adult groups on street corners, the usual public platform for future recording stars.  Long-story-short, she eventually agreed to sign a recording contract with Berry Gordy, authorising her eleven-year-old son to join Motown.  Part of that contract guaranteed he would have his own personal tutor ensuring his education continued, and would receive protection from the many negative influences and situations that faced a youngster travelling around the country, or, indeed, being in the music business itself.

Due to his extraordinary musical expertise as a singer and musician, Berry Gordy named him Little Stevie Wonder but had little idea of how to promote him.  So, for the time being, Little Stevie was well cared for; treated as one of the close-knit Motown family, and was allowed the run of Motown’s offices (often to the annoyance of other artists, particularly when he gate crashed their recording sessions!)  until the time was right to launch his career.  The rest – as they say – is history, yet without his mother’s belief in God, her strength and determination to conquer all the setbacks thrown in her son’s way, little Stevland could have been just another blind kid on the block.  While telling the story of his climb to stardom, “Blind Love” documents events from a personal viewpoint which is refreshing and often revealing, yet at the end of the day, this book is testament to his mother’s love.  A love he returned ten-fold.  Lula Mae died in May 2006 which makes this book all the more important.

While talking about Stevie, here’s a few news items, starting with one from February, when he performed at the Grammy Awards ceremony singing a medley of Motown hits to honour Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson. He kicked off with The Temptations’ “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, duetted with Smokey on “The Tears Of A Clown”, before hitting “Higher Ground”. Oh, this reminds me, Smokey has just released his first all-new material album since 2009 titled “Gasms”, a concept album about sex and other forms of pleasure. And this from the man of romance!   I’ve not heard it, so can’t comment but when I read that his wife and stepdaughter tried to talk him out of releasing it, perhaps I don’t want to. Apparently, he said he wanted to stir up controversy with the title, insisting ‘gasms’ refers not only to orgasms, but “anything that makes you feel good…I tell everybody, ‘whatever your gasm is, that’s exactly what I’m talking about.'”  That’s fair enough.  However, was it fair of him to drag up his ‘affair’ with Diana Ross that was decades ago?  No, I don’t reckon so.  As far as I can remember, she’s not mentioned it in interviews and Smokey only made a passing reference to it in his autobiography “Smokey:Inside My Life”. So why now, and how does it fit in with the album?

I digressed.  During March, Stevie was given “The Freedom of The City Of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.”  He was bestowed with the city’s highest honour in recognition of his activism for social and political causes.  In a motion Council members heard of Stevie’s status as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, and his receipt of Presidential Freedom granted to him by former president Barack Obama.  His ties to the civil rights activist Martin Luther King were also taken into account.  Fast forward one month to May, where among Stevie’s activities included him receiving an honorary doctorate of humane letters at Fordham University.  Not only was he recognised for his artistic talents but also as an advocacy for social justice and humanitarian causes, including his campaign to secure Martin Luther King Day, and working to increase the accessibility in large print, Braille and audio books.  “You’ve got to be activists,” Stevie told his University audience. “You have to vote.  You have to serve your communities, and you must enlighten the unenlightened.  You really do have to be woke.  Now, maybe some leaders in this nation don’t understand what being ‘woke’ is.  Let me tell you what it is.  It’s being awake.  And being awake means being aware….So stand up and be counted as one against oppression, hatred, and let’s keep the truth alive.”

He highlighted other issues before performing “This I Know” from his forthcoming project “Through The Eyes Of Wonder”, before segueing into “You Are The Sunshine Of My Life”.  As far as I can remember, the new album was first mentioned back in 2020 when he hosted a press conference to announce he had left Motown, after nearly sixty years as a signed artist, to open his own label, What The Fuss Records, under the umbrella of Republic Records and the Universal Music Group. No more new information has been forthcoming.  However, do visit for regular updates.

Finally for this month, I went to see Ain’t Too Proud To Beg – the much talked about Temptations musical.  Unfortunately, there’s not enough room here for my review so will hold it over for next month.  Meantime, as I’m writing this, news has just hit the internet that Diana Ross has announced two nights only at London’s most prestigious of venues, the Royal Albert Hall, on 14 and 15 October this year. To say this has taken fans by surprise is an understatement. One of my FB friends said he’d have to remortgage his home to buy tickets, while another moaned, and I quote, “I’ll have to sell a kidney”.  As I’ve no idea how much the tickets will cost, I couldn’t offer any words of comfort.  However, by the time you read this, all will have been revealed.  Good luck one and all!

Sharon Davis