-- Paul B Allen III: September 7, 2019


If you were asked to name the greatest female vocal groups of the 1960s, I’d bet my lunch money that the names of The Supremes or Martha Reeves and the Vandellas or The Marvelettes or The Ronettes, The Blossoms, The Shangri-Las, or The Shirelles would all be names that you may come up with.   

But I would be willing to bet double my lunch money that a name you would not come up with would be The Andantes. And yet, The Andantes were perhaps the most gifted and prolific female vocal trio of all time.   

The Andantes were to Motown vocals what the Funk Brothers were to Motown music. Artists whose names were never publicized, but who performed on over 90% of the Motown hits that came out of Detroit before 1972.   

The Andantes sang background vocals on over 20,000 Motown songs! If you have ever heard a Motown classic hit song from the 1960s you have heard the voices of The Andantes. Their voices were often described as being gifts from God, heavenly, divine. These three women are spoken of with great reverence among those in the upper echelons of the music industry to this day.   

How good were they? It is reported that if one of The Andantes was ill and could not join the other two in the studio to sing the backgrounds together, that the record being worked on was held up until all three could be present. So, if Stevie Wonder or The Temptations or Marvin Gaye had a hot song going in the studio, they had to wait for The Andantes to do their thing before that record could go forward.

It is further said that the Andantes had a perfect “blend.” That's the elusive homogeneous quality that every background vocal group performing everywhere in this world is striving to achieve even now. Their blend was so perfect that only they could tell who was singing each part. No one else ever could. Because of this, the producers at Motown found ways to use the voices of The Andantes that were unusual, to say the least.    

Their voices were so good that they were used for more than typical background parts. Many times, their voices were rolled into the voice of the more famous lead vocalist. If a star vocalist was having a problem, they would be told by the producer, “Don’t worry about it. You go home now, and we’ll fix it.” Then the producer would sneak the Andantes into the studio and have them sing the lead vocal part, and have their voices blended into the lead track making the “Star” performer sound better than ever. Incredible!   

The Andantes were not promoted by Motown as a performing group, for the same reasons that the Funk Brothers were not. Barry Gordy was protective of the musicians and vocalists he brought together, and he didn’t want any of them wooed away from his company. If word got out that The Andantes were this phenomenal, any other competing record company would have offered them a contract as lead vocalists making tons more money. The ten dollars a day that they earned from Motown would have been eclipsed, and Motown would have lost one of the major secret ingredients of its  hit-making recipe. After all, The Andantes recorded a hit record nearly every single day in their time at Motown.   

Here is a partial list of songs that Jackie Hicks, Marlene Barrow, and Louvain Dempsey, The Andantes, performed on, as provided by Wikipedia:  Chart-topping hits : "My Guy" – Mary Wells * "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" – Four Tops * "Reach Out I'll Be There" – Four Tops * "Love Child" – Diana Ross & the Supremes * "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" – Marvin Gaye   

The Andantes appeared on many singles for Brenda Holloway. These include: "When I'm Gone" * "Operator" * "You Can Cry on My Shoulder" * "Together 'Til the End of Time" * "Just Look What You've Done"   

The Andantes appeared as backing vocalists on 16 singles for the Four Tops. These releases include:  "Baby I Need Your Loving"[2] * "Without the One You Love (Life's Not Worth While)" *"Ask the Lonely" * "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" * "It's the Same Old Song" * "Something About You" * "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)" * "Reach Out I'll Be There" * "Standing in the Shadows of Love" * "Bernadette" * "7-Rooms of Gloom" * "You Keep Running Away" * "I'm in a Different World" * "Still Water (Love)" * "Walk Away Renee" * "If I Were a Carpenter" 

 They appeared as backing vocalists on eight singles for The Supremes. These releases include: "Children's Christmas Song" * "In and Out of Love" * "Forever Came Today" * "Love Child"[2] * "I'm Livin' in Shame" * "The Composer"   

They appeared as backing vocalists on twelve singles for Martha & the Vandellas. These releases include: "You've Been in Love Too Long" * "Love (Makes Me Do Foolish Things)" (B-Side of "You've Been in Love Too Long") * "My Baby Loves Me" (with the Four Tops) * "I'm Ready for Love" * "Jimmy Mack" * "I Promise to Wait My Love" * "Forget Me Not" (B-Side of "I Promise to Wait My Love") * "I Can't Dance to That Music You're Playing" (with Syreeta Wright) * "(We've Got) Honey Love" * "Taking My Love (And Leaving Me)" * "I Should Be Proud"   

They appeared as backing vocalists on 14 singles for the Marvelettes. These releases include: "Tie a String Around Your Finger" (b-side of "As Long as I Know He's Mine") "I'll Keep Holding On" * "Don't Mess with Bill" * "You're The One" * "The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game" * "When You're Young and in Love" * "My Baby Must Be a Magician" * "Here I Am Baby" * "Destination: Anywhere" * "What's Easy for Two Is So Hard for One" * "I'm Gonna Hold On As Long As I Can" * "That's How Heartaches Are Made" * "Marionette" * "A Breath-Taking Guy"   

They appeared as backing vocalists on five recordings for the Temptations. "It's Growing" * "Last One Out is Broken Hearted" * "Just Another Lonely Night" * "That'll Be the Day" * "Love Woke Me Up This Morning"   

They appeared as backing vocalists on (at least) 15 singles for Marvin Gaye. These releases include: "Baby Don't You Do It" * "What Good Am I Without You"* "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" * "I'll Be Doggone" * "Pretty Little Baby" * "Ain't That Peculiar" * "One More Heartache" * "Take This Heart of Mine" * "Little Darling (I Need You)" * "Your Unchanging Love" * "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" * "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" * "That's the Way Love Is" * "The End of Our Road" * "Save the Children"   

They also appeared as backing vocalists on these following recordings and singles for Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell: "This Poor Heart Of Mine" * "Give In, You Just Can't Win" * "When Love Comes Knocking At My Heart" * "Two Can Have A Party" * "Come On And See Me" * "Oh How I'd Miss You" * "Love Woke Me Up This Morning"[4] 

The Andantes have also appeared as backing vocalists on numerous Stevie Wonder recordings, including: "Sunset" (B-side of "Contract on Love") * "Kiss Me Baby" * "Music Talk" (B-side of "Hi-Heel Sneakers") * "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" * "Nothing's Too Good For My Baby" * "A Place in the Sun" * "Hey Love" * "I Was Made to Love Her" * "I'm Wondering" * "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day" * "For Once in My Life"[2] * "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday"   

How’s that for a musical resume?   

I hope you enjoy the videos that accompany this article. I have curated some of the best examples of the background vocals of The Andantes as they supported these great artists.   

Join us next week when we will share information about a woman who may have been the finest female vocalist of early Motown, and, who I am convinced, Whitney Houston emulated quite heavily in vocal style, technique, dynamics, enunciation, and performance. The great musical entrepreneur, Dick Clark , who hosted the TV show American Bandstand for decades, stated before the world that this artist was the greatest vocalist he had ever heard in his entire life. See you next week. 

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