Take away the sweet, punchy, and echoing vocals of Motown backup singers, and what do you have left? Some great pop-soul music plus an occasionally silent, very lonely-sounding soloist!
The collective--if not individual--names of some background vocalists did adorn marquees and posters. Marvelettes! Miracles! Pips!
But who were those men who sang on Mary Wells records? Who were those women behind Marvin Gaye? Whose sometimes improvised, always well-integrated, usually anonymous harmonies spiced up song after song?
Some of those session singers became big soul and R&B stars themselves. Others became question marks to attentive listeners.
Motown Backup Singers -In the Shadows
The Rayber Voices
•Members (usually four):
◦Robert Bateman (bass, future Brianbert songwriter, producer)
◦Brian Holland (baritone, future Brianbert and HDH songwriter, producer)
◦Raynoma Liles (soprano, future music partner, business partner, and wife of Berry Gordy)
◦Sonny Sanders (tenor)
◦Also: Berry Gordy (president), Gwendolyn Murray, Louvain Demps (soprano)
◦Eddie Holland ("Merry-Go-Round")
◦Marv Johnson ("Come to Me")
The Voice Masters•Members (usually five):
◦Henry Dixon (tenor, future Original)
◦Melvin Franklin (bass, future Temptation)
◦Walter Gaines (baritone, future Original)
◦Ty Hunter (lead tenor, future Original)
◦C.P. Spencer (tenor, future Original)
◦Also: Lamont Dozier (lead tenor, future HDH songwriter, producer), David Ruffin (lead tenor, future Temptation), Joe Charles (aka Joe Murphy) (lead tenor)
•Members (usually three):
◦Stan Bracely (bass)
◦Carl Jones (lead tenor)
◦Joe Miles (baritone)
◦Also: Mickey Stevenson (tenor, future A&R director, songwriter, producer)
◦Mary Wells ("The One Who Really Loves You")
◦Marvin Gaye ("Soldier's Plea")
•They sang with:
◦Mary Wells ("My Guy")
◦Marvin Gaye ("How Sweet It Is (to Be Loved by You), (What's Going On)
◦The Four Tops ("Ask the Lonely")
◦Brenda Holloway ("When I'm Gone")
◦Martha and the Vandellas ("My Baby Loves Me")
◦Diana Ross and the Supremes ("Love Child")
◦Stevie Wonder ("For Once in My Life")
◦The Marvelettes ("Marionette")
Motown Backup Singers - Among the Stars (these stars sang back up for others)
*The Supremes (sang with Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations)
*The Temptations (sang with Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye)
*Martha and the Vandellas (sang with Marvin Gaye, Sandra Mallett of the Elgins)
*The Four Tops
*The Originals (sang with Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Ruffin, Stevie Wonder)
To be honest with you, I love marvin Gaye, Jimmy Ruffin, and of course Stevie Wonder. I mean a lot of these artist were well beyond my years however, my pops did teach me about some. yes, a lot of them were very soulful but we have so many soulful singers today that are just as good.
You know I never really thought about the backgrounds but you are right it sets the tone to bring the songs together. Isn't that something how Motown just engaged each other to make great music. It would seem that doing it that way would keep everyone humble because one is not greater than the whole part.