Freedom Festival: Martha Reeves interview
Ian Midgley meets Motown legend Martha Reeves ahead of her headline appearance at the Freedom Festival ...
The Lord gave her a gift and she's going to use it for as long as she can.
Here endeth the lesson. Amen. And, to be fair, if you're going listen to pearls of wisdom from any pop star, it might as well be a Motown legend like Martha Reeves.
It's mid-afternoon, Thursday, and the 71-year-old singer is at home in Detroit. She may no longer be in the first flushes of youth, but there's no signs of age or weariness in this gospel-infused siren.
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Tonight, she's going out to an open jam session at a local club, unannounced, just for the sheer enjoyment of it.
"It's just something I like to do," laughs the singer, who'll be bringing half a century of musical class to Hull's Freedom festival next Saturday, with a headline performance at the specially built Pier Stage in the Marina's Nelson Street.
"It's just a little club I like to go to sometimes. Do people look up and say 'Is that Martha Reeves?' Yes they do. It's the same at church when I get up to sing there. But music holds a very dear place in my heart. I still perform 40 weeks a year. For me, the magic never stops.
"The way I look at it is this: The Lord gave me this talent for a reason and I'm going to sing for as long, and to as many people, as I can. It's a joy to sing songs that people remember; songs that maybe remind them of a special time in their lives."
To anybody boned-up on their Motown history, the name Martha Reeves may not conjure up an instantly recognisable face in the same way as, say, Diana Ross or Marvin Gaye.
But you'll know all her songs by heart.
Jimmy Mack. Nowhere To Run. Dancing In The Street – the good version before Jagger and Bowie dragged it through Eighties bouffant hell – are just three of the dozen hit singles she enjoyed with her backing band the Vandellas.
Hers, as much as anyone's, was the true Motown "voice of young America".
Not that audiences were always so appreciative.
Despite having her talent spotted at the age of 3, singing in church, her immediate family weren't always so encouraging.
"I remember as a teenager – I was the third of 11 children and the eldest girl – a lot of my responsibilities seemed to be in the kitchen doing the washing up," she laughs.
"I'd sing while I was doing my chores and the dog would howl and my brother would throw his shoe at me to get me to shut up. It was all 'Oh, Martha's at it again. Can't we have some peace?'
"But I persevered. I practised every day and, luckily, it all paid off."
It's not only in music that the singer has shown her determined streak.
As well as climbing to the top of the charts, she has also performed in Broadway musicals; written for music newspaper Soul; performed at a prestigious Superbowl half-time show; penned a best-selling autobiography called Dancing In The Street and also spent five years serving on Detroit City Council.
She resigned her council seat in 2009 but now has an equally important second role to perform alongside her touring commitments – that of grandmother.
"They call 'em Mamma Man," she shrieks, bristling with enthusiasm for her grandchildren.
"I have been blessed in so many ways," she smiles. "But the grandchildren are a real blessing."
For her Hull show, Martha will be performing with an eight-piece backing band and two English backing singers reprising the Vandellas' sweet vocal harmonies. There will be a strict, "when it's full, it's full" quota for the Pier Stage arena, which will be created in Nelson Street, on the edge of the Humber estuary, so Soul men and women are advised to get down early if they want to be guaranteed a space.
The singer certainly thinks it will be worth the trip all the way from Michigan.
"I love playing in England," she says. "The UK's always been very kind to me, like a second home.
"All I'd say to all the folks in Hull is come along and join in the party. We're going to play some great music and have a lot of fun."
• Saturday, September 8, 9.40pm, Pier Stage, Nelson Street, Hull Marina. Free entry. First-come, first- served in stage arena. Call 0871 220 0260.