The Velvelettes were an all-girl singing group signed to Motown in the 1960s.
University students Bertha Barbee and Mildred Gill founded the group in 1961. Mildred recruited her younger sister Carolyn “Cal” Gill and she recruited her friend Betty Kelley. Bertha got her cousin Norma Barbee to join and Cal (who was in 9th grade at the time) was chosen as lead singer. Classmate Robert Bullock was Berry Gordy‘s nephew (small world) and he suggested that the group audition for Motown. They were signed by the label in 1962, and began recording the following year.
Budding songwriter-producer Norman Whitfield helped them find their first chart success with “Needle In A Haystack” and it’s follow-up, “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin'”, both just missing out on the Pop Top 40 in 1964. The group continued to record and perform live, but Mildred, Norma and Bertha left to focus on their families, and Sandra Tilley (introduced by friend and Four Tops member Abdul Fakir) and Annette McMillan took their place.
An album, The Velvelettes, was started but left unfinished and never released. After several more single releases, Sandra Tilley left to join Martha Reeves & The Vandellas and Cal Gill married Richard Street (of The Monitors) and the group disbanded.
The Velvelettes did not reunite until 1984 when the group performed together at a concert at the request of Bertha. The Gill sisters and Barbee cousins then went on to re-record their original songs and some new material for the album One Door Closes for Ian Levine’s Motorcity Records. The group continues to tour today, and is the only such Motown act made up entirely of original members.
The Marvels of The Velvelettes
- NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK
- HE WAS REALLY SAYIN’ SOMETHIN’
- LONELY, LONELY GIRL AM I
- A BIRD IN THE HAND (IS WORTH TWO IN THE BUSH)
- THESE THINGS WILL KEEP ME LOVING YOU