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The Velvelettes

The Velvelettes had three small chart hits for Motown in the mid-'60s, including "He Was Really Sayin' Somethin'," revived with great success in Britain by Bananarama in the early '80s, and "Needle in a Haystack," which almost made the pop Top 40. Very much in the Motown girl-group mold shared by the Marvelettes, Martha & the Vandellas, and the Supremes, they never broke out as those other groups did. In part, this was because they didn't carve as identifiable a sound as any of those other acts had, and in part it was because the group's personnel changed rapidly before they disbanded around 1970. The Velvelettes were formed by Bertha Barbee at Western Michigan University in the early '60s, with Cal Gill ending up as the lead singer, although she was only 14 years old when she joined. With encouragement from one of Berry Gordy's nephews, they auditioned for Motown and released their first single on the label in 1963. Several of Motown's biggest guns wrote and produced for the group between 1963 and 1967, including Norman Whitfield, Mickey Stevenson, and Sylvia Moy, although one original member (Betty Kelly) left to join Martha & the Vandellas for several years in 1964. However, the Velvelettes only did about a half-dozen singles for Motown in the '60s, and although an album was scheduled for release, it never came out. Cal Gill brought in two new singers to keep the group going at the end of 1967, but they broke up shortly afterwards. A reformed version of the Velvelettes began playing in 1984, and a compilation of their '60s Motown material finally came out on CD in 1999.
© Richie Unterberger /TiVo
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