Home ArtsMusic Mable John, Soul Singer With a Star-Studded Résumé, Dies at 91

Mable John, Soul Singer With a Star-Studded Résumé, Dies at 91

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Beyond her many other accomplishments, including collaborating on a hit single with Isaac Hayes and backing songs for Ray Charles, Marble John was one of the first female artists to be signed to the Motown record empire. was inducted into the Music Hall of Fame and changed the face of pop. 1960s music.

But none of this might have happened if Motown Records founder Berry Gordy didn’t have to get in the car.

John was an aspiring blues singer who worked for a Detroit insurance company owned by Mr. Gordy’s mother, Bertha. In the 1950s, Mr. Gordy worked as the de facto chauffeur for Bertha, a future music mogul and former Lincoln Mercury assembly line worker. As a songwriter and musical impresario, he had lofty ambitions and was running around town producing hits.

It didn’t take long for him to recognize the power of the female voice behind the wheel. In time, Mr. Gordy served as pianist and mentor, and Mr. John joined his circuit of Detroit nightclubs.

“I groomed for a whole year before doing anything anywhere else,” she later said.

As a Motown pioneer, Ms. John has never produced hits like Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, and other stars of the Motown roster. However, her influence on music was felt immediately.

With a voice reaching breathtaking depth and rising into the high register, John moved to Stax Records in Memphis, known for its more earthy R&B, where she had a hit single in 1966. “Your good (it’s almost over)‘ is a heartbreaking ballad later covered by Lou Rawls, Bonnie Raitt and others. She eventually spent more than a decade as a member of her Raelettes, her group Ray backed her vocals with Charles.

John died at his home in Los Angeles on August 25th. she was 91 years old. Her death was confirmed by her nephew Keith Her John, Stevie Her Wonder’s longtime backup her singer.

“She was definitely R&B royalty,” says the author, who collaborated with John on a series of semi-autobiographical novels centered around the R&B singer who wrote biographies and became a pastor of Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and others. said David Ritz of

Broadly speaking, John’s musical journey could be seen as a metaphor for the mass migration of black Americans fleeing the South in the mid-20th century to seek opportunities in the North. She was born on her November 3, 1930, in Bastrop, Louisiana, the eldest of her ten children to Martis and Lily (Robinson) John. When she was 12, her father quit a demanding job in a paper mill and moved her family to Detroit in search of a better life. He found a job at an automobile factory.

With its growing black population, Detroit became a hotbed of African-American music and an ideal place for people to pursue their musical ambitions. Lily John led a family gospel group, and by the mid-50s Marble’s brother William had found fame as a singer under the name Little Willie John, scoring multiple R&B hits with songs such as . “all around the world,” “Need Your Love So Bad” When “heat,” It hit #1 on the R&B charts in 1956 and has since become an immortal classic Anthem of Desire for Peggy Lee.

Turning to his own musical career, John soon began singing in a cheeky, vulnerable voice at hallowed Detroit clubs like the Flame Show Bar, which opened for Billie Holiday shortly before his death in 1959.

Her career ambitions and her decision to tour with her famous brothers got her kicked out of the statewide Pentecostal choir. “They didn’t approve of the music,” she said in a 2008 interview with The Guardian. “I went to the devil.”

But she was on her way. In 1959, Mr. Gordy formed Motown, a landscape-changing sister label, Tamura, and soon signed Ms. John. “Who wouldn’t love a man like that?” Written in 1960 by Gordy et al.

Some of the singles over the next few years failed to make a splash.By 1966, Ms. John was living in Chicago, married to a pastor, and told Ms. Gordy that she wanted to be released from the label. In a 1999 interview with Living Blues magazine, she recalled telling him: i’m a blues singer “

But her career wasn’t over yet. She moved to Motown’s blues rival Stax, which proved to be a better fit for her musical vision.

“At Motown, they gave you songs and taught you how to dress and dance,” Tim Sampson, communications director for the Soulsville Foundation, which operates the Stax Museum in Memphis, said in an interview. , they brought you in and said, ‘Tell me your story. What makes you happy? What makes you sad? That will be your music.’

Over time, John met two of the label’s top songwriters, David Porter and the lesser-known Isaac Hayes. Looking for songs for her to record, she told them about her early marriage to an unfaithful man. As she spoke, Mr. Hayes began playing the piano and Mr. Porter began scribbling lyrics.

“I had no idea what the music or the melody was supposed to be,” she told The Guardian. I had to, and when the night was over, I had Your Good Thing (Is About to End).”

The song reached #6 on the Billboard R&B chart, but her tenure with Stax was short-lived. In 1969, she joined Ray Charles as a backing vocalist.

Ritz said living up to Charles’ strict musical standards was an achievement in itself. You played the wrong one and you are out. He added that Jon, who had a strong sense of morality and whose nickname was Able Marble, also did his best to keep the band away from the temptations of the road.

For John, her years with Charles were an opportunity to broaden her musical horizons.

“At first, I thought I could only sing gospel,” she said. 2007 interview at NPR. “I found out I could sing the blues with Berry Gordy. I went to Stax and found out I could sing love songs. I sang country with Ray Charles. I wanted to sing what was in my heart to everyone who loved music, and Ray Charles was the place for me to do that.”

John’s survivors include his son, Rimuel Taylor. brother, Martis John Jr.; and several grandchildren.

She continued to perform intermittently over the years. She also wrote her three novels with Mr. Ritz. “Sanctified Blues” (2006), “Stay Out of the Kitchen” (2007), “Love Tornado” (2008). And she’s also dabbled in acting, playing the veteran Bruce Her Singer in the 2007 John Sayles-directed film The Honey Dripper.

But John also felt a higher mission. She followed her path from the stage to the pulpit with Little Richard and Al Green, small Baptist ministry Organized a food and clothing drive for the homeless in Los Angeles.

In a way, she may have been heeding the wisdom she remembered long ago bestowed upon her by Billie Holiday. She needs to know when she has given enough and she has to quit after that. “

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