Gladys Horton, co-founder and lead singer of history-making Motown girl group The Marvelettes, has died after suffering several strokes. She was 66.
Horton formed the Casinyets (a play on “Can’t Sing Yets”) with high school friends Georgia Dobbins, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart, and Katherine Anderson in the Detroit suburb of Inkster. In 1961, the group—renamed the Marvels—won the chance to audition for the fledgling Motown record company, eventually singing for Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy, who rechristened them The Marvelettes. Horton was only 15 in 1961 when she took over lead vocals from the departing Georgia Dobbins, who was forced to leave the group after her father forbade her from playing in nightclubs. Before Dobbins left, she co-wrote a song with William Garrett called “Please Mr. Postman;” released as their first single with Horton singing the lead, it soon became the first No. 1 record for Motown, and made The Marvelettes the first successful Motown girl group.
In the years to follow, “Please Mr. Postman” would be covered by The Beatles and The Carpenters (whose version also became a hit in 1974), but The Marvelettes never replicated its success. Though sullied somewhat by the quickie cash-in “Twistin’ Postman,” the group managed a few more Top 10 singles in “Playboy,” “Beechwood 4-5789,” and “Don’t Mess With Bill." But by 1965, it had suffered the loss of Cowart (due to a nervous breakdown after an American Bandstand appearance) and Tillmann (who was suffering from lupus), as well as serious competition from the other Motown acts it had paved the way for such as Martha And The Vandellas and The Supremes, who had a No. 1 hit with “Where Did Our Love Go” after The Marvelettes chose not to record it. After finding herself increasingly edged out of singing the lead on the group's singles by the girl they'd originally hired to replace Georgia Dobbins, Wanda Young (whom Smokey Robinson favored), Horton finally left the group in 1967 to get married, and The Marvelettes simply replaced her with another singer, Anne Brogan.
The post-Horton era saw the group limp to an unspectacular finish, all but ignored by their record label and beset by internal fighting, culminating in 1970’s questionably titled The Return Of The Marvelettes—which was essentially a solo record for lead singer Wanda Young, who was now the only remaining member from the group's early days. In 1989, Horton put together a new/old version of The Marvelettes with Young for the Motorcity Records release The Marvelettes…Now!, but due to Young’s alleged problems with drug and alcohol abuse, only Horton was able to tour behind it. After this aborted attempt to get The Marvelettes going again, Horton more or less retired from show business to care for her handicapped son, although she still performed occasionally; however, one final insult from Motown came when the label sold the name “The Marvelettes” to a promoter, thereby preventing any of the actual members from using that title. But thanks to legislation launched in 2006 that forbade artists from using a group's name if it doesn't contain at least one original member, Horton was allowed to perform once again as Gladys Horton Of The Marvelettes, which she continued to do until very recently, as seen in this footage of Horton from a 2005 concert.