Today marks what would have been Motown sensation Mary Wells 73rd birthday. We’re celebrating by taking a look back at the life and achievements of one of Motown’s biggest female solo artists.
Mary Wells was born on 13th May 1943 in Detroit. She began singing at an early age in church choirs, later moving on to perform at nightclubs in the Detroit area.
She was one of Motown’s first singing superstars and was nicknamed “The Queen of Motown” until she left the label in 1964.
When Wells first left school at the age of 17, she wanted to be a scientist. However with artists like Jackie Wilson and The Miracles having huge success, she decided to try her luck as a singer-songwriter.
In 1960, she approached Motown founder Berry Gordy with a song she’d written named “Bye Bye Baby”, intending for it to be recorded by Jackie Wilson. Gordy asked her to sing the song to him and was so impressed by her voice that he asked her to record the song herself. After 22 takes, the single was complete and Wells was signed to the Motown subsidiary label. The debut single reached number 8 in the Billboard R&B chart.
Mary Wells became the first female Motown artist to have a top 40 pop single when “I Don’t Want to Take a Chance” produced and co-written by Berry Gordy, reached No. 33 in 1961.
Her major success began when she started collaborating with Smokey Robinson in 1962. He wrote and produced many songs for her sparking a string of successful singles including “The One Who Really Loves You” (peaking at no. 2 in the R&B chart and no. 8 in the Hot 100), “Two Lovers” (peaking at no. 1 in the R&B chart and no. 7 in the Pop chart) and “You Beat Me To the Punch” (peaking at no. 1 in R&B chart and no. 9 in the Pop chart).
The latter of these successful songs earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Rhythm & Blues recording, making her the first Motown star to be nominated for a Grammy.
Mary Wells was the first female solo artist to have three consecutive top 10 singles in the pop chart.
Her most successful single was “My Guy”, released in 1964, which reached no. 1 on the Cashbox R&B chart where it held the position for 7 weeks. It was also number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for 2 weeks. The famous song has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
“My Guy” was one of the first Motown songs to be a hit in the UK, peaking at No. 5 in the UK chart helping to bring the Motown sound across the Atlantic. She supported The Beatles during their UK tour making her the first Motown star to perform in the UK.
She recorded a duet album with Marvin Gaye entitled “Together” which reached No. 1 on the R&B album chart and No. 42 on the pop album chart.
In total she released 44 singles and 13 studio albums.
Below Mary Wells performs a medley of songs with Smokey Robinson on his TV show “Motown Revue”.