Martha Reeves Biography -
Every Step She Takes,
We Take With Her

It's a Martha Reeves biography through and through--not a Martha and the Vandellas biography, like mine over here. It's easy to claim that you'll love the book if you love the Motown singer. But, er, what about me? :/

Specifics follow in my review.

Martha Reeves Biography -
Dancing in the Street:
Confessions of a Motown Diva

Martha Reeves biography: Cover

By Martha Reeves and Mark Bego, 1994

Based on how I've heard her sing, Martha Reeves is probably my favorite female Motown artist. So I'd hate to say this, but getting to know her better through this book has made me like her less.

The discomfort begins as early as the Acknowledgements. There, Reeves explicitly states her hope to proselytize people to her religion. It's well intentioned and admirably straightforward. But as a reader prepared to consider the subject's life changes rather than her own, that declaration makes me wary.

Moreover, Reeves opens her narrative by talking about the "downward spiral of loss" she feels over three recently deceased Motown stars. Again, candid. Poignant. But as someone who regrets her own death talk during one in-person introduction, I think the promise of this bio starts sinking around here.

So at first, Reeves reveals too much too soon. As the bio hums along, though, she often sounds like she's palling around with a buddy, not whispering to a confidante. There's little dramatic buildup to some events, including the Vandellas' farewell concert, and her antagonistic dealings with her backups arise out of nowhere and end abruptly. It's pretty offhanded.

She is capable of showing literary focus. Accompanying each chapter are lovely stanzas that I mistook for obscure Vandellas lyrics by, oh, Eddie Holland. Wrong. They're poems by Martha Reeves herself!

That's one way we get into her head. Another is through her photos, whose captions tend to stress their subjects' wardrobe. That's right: She likes clothes. :) "Divas need their furs!" she insists elsewhere.

I think she's only half-joking. One fur "saved [her] life" by preventing illness in the cold. That could be accurate.

However, I can't agree that lost money during a tour is a "tragedy," or that a bout of temporary sickness is "tragic." It's a little hard to take such overblown descriptions seriously after a while.

There's no way to dismiss the author's religiosity. Throughout this Martha Reeves biography, her devotion and gratitude to God is intense.

But if I may match her frankness, she often comes off as judgmental, almost gleefully so. Regardless of provocation, who calls anyone a "short little unattractive" anything without sounding spiteful? Is it honest? Sure. Gracious? Not really.

Enough about the author. What about her story?

The book's best parts involve her Motown peers. In sections about Mickey Stevenson, the Funk Brothers, and the finishing school instructors, she's terrifically supportive of the underdogs. She's equally adept at handling the realm of the stars, whether they're congregating during the Motor City Tour or their behavioral nuances are falling under Reeves's sharp eye.

Most surprising is her treatment of Berry Gordy, which turns out to be a clever narrative setup. Even the doom-and-gloom opening makes structural sense by the end.

Obligatory but vivid passages tackle her musical progress, love life, nemesis Diana Ross, and health troubles. She touches upon Hitsville happenings pretty lightly, but it's just as well that she veers away from the usual Motown trivia.

An epilogue and a discography later, I can lay down the Martha Reeves biography with feelings astir about the Motown artist and her ordeals. My outlook has changed--on her. I'm fonder of the book than of its narrator.

With an attitude as clear and forceful as her voice, I doubt she'd care. :)

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