There is a strong thread of service to others that runs through the life and career of Martha Reeves, former leader of the Vandellas, who returns to the Rrazz Room next week for her third annual appearance.
“It started with my family,” she says of the crowded house shared with her parents and 11 siblings. “Being the first girl, I had a lot of responsibility and also had to be an example. It put me in an authoritative position, which made me realize I could be a leader. I could be responsible for others.”
Those traits came to the fore professionally when she worked as a part-time secretary at Motown while pursuing her music career. In addition to scheduling appointments, Reeves worked in A&R (artists and repertoire), booking session artists and making sure they were paid in a timely manner.
“I think I was helpful in giving the musicians a good understanding of how things worked,” she says. “It helped in the relationships with the Funk Brothers and the Motown artists. Everybody got along better, and the music seemed to be proof of that.”
That talent pool included Rosalind Ashford, Annette Beard and Gloria Williams, who, with Reeves, first performed as The Del Phis and then as The Vels. Williams left the group shortly before they signed a recording contract as Martha and the Vandellas in 1962.
For a decade they were one of Motown’s leading acts, charting hits such as “Dancing in the Streets” and “(Love Is Like a) Heat Wave.” However, the group disbanded in 1972 and Reeves split from the label, launching her solo career.
“We had our ups and downs, but there were more ups than downs. It was never a situation of, ‘I’m gonna get my gun and shoot you,’” she says, referencing the violence that has often plagued rap music. “It was never like that.”
So far this century, Reeves has served four years as a Detroit City Council member and board member of the Detroit chapter of AFTRA, and in 2007 she lobbied Congress for better wage and royalty terms for musicians.
Though soloing here, she continues to perform dates as Martha Reeves and The Vandellas — the group name was formally changed in 1968 — with sisters Lois and Delphine.
Reeves is currently working on her next album and on a follow-up to her 1995 memoir. Much as she loves performing, this trip to the Bay Area holds an even more special attraction.
“I have a new god-baby that lives in San Mateo,” she says, “so I’m very excited to be coming back!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Rrazz Room, Hotel Nikko, 222 Mason St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday
Tickets: $40 to $45
Contact: (800) 380-3095, www.therrazzroom.com