Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown’s First Superstar
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by Peter Benjaminson
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: Chicago Review Press; 1 edition (November 1, 2012)
Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.1 x 9 inches
One of the most captivating personalities on the Motown roster during its glory days, singer Mary Wells was a force of nature: complex, independent, and resourceful. With this new book about Wells, Pater Benjaminson, journalist and author of The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard, wants to do a good job of telling the Detroit native’s turbulent story from start to finish. It’s an impressive work, with interviews from family, friends, husbands, and lovers giving the readers the juicy parts.
Although Mary always thought there were several girl singers, who could sing better than she did, that didn’t stop her. However, the Mary Wells phenomenon exploded in America and abroad, interesting the red-hot Beatles, who invited the singer to join them on their fall 1964 tour. The author keeps the singer upfront, noting how the 1962 hit, “Two Lovers” and the following success, “You Beat Me To The Punch,” influenced the early years of the English musical invasion.
With Gordy at the controls of the Motown empire, even the most profitable stars in his stable made very little cash, including Mary, who hated her Motown contract, which she said gypped her. Also, Gordy promoted Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, The Miracles, and Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, at Wells’ expense. Mary Wells left Motown at the age of 21, going through years of hit-and-miss success in her record career with a number of labels. Benjaminson mines these lean years for all their worth, moving her through a series of love affairs and marriages, drink and drugs, and bad managers.
Looking back, Mary regretted departing Motown and Gordy confessed he slighted the singer. Mary’s favorite drug was heroin. It bankrupted her just when he would get a leg up in the business. Never a healthy person, she pushed herself past her limits, touring almost nonstop. When Mary died in 1982 at 49 of throat cancer, her funeral was well-attended with many celebrities and her four children.
Revealing, provocative, and detailed, Benjaminson’s thoughtful portrayal of Mary Wells, a music pioneer and supreme pop stylist, is both striking and appealing.AALBC.com's comments powered by Disqus