Mary Wells was one of the early superstars of Motown Records. She was so important to the development of the label's sound, and such a bright light in the label's early catalog, that she was known as "The First Lady of Motown."
Mary Wells: The Definitive Collection (Amazon.com)
That title also referred to Wells' status as the first real female star at the label. There were a few women who joined Motown before she did, but they didn't reach the heights Mary Wells achieved. And while we've got "firsts" on our minds, here are a few other firsts that Mary Wells was responsible for…
In 1961, Mary Wells became the first Motown female artist to have a Top 40 pop single. "I Don't Want to Take a Chance" made it to No. 33 on the U.S. pop chart and helped establish Motown Records as a youth-culture powerhouse.
Motown quickly gained respect in the music industry, and less than two years after that first "first," Wells was nominated for a Grammy Award for her single "You Beat Me to the Punch." She was the first Motown star to receive a Grammy nomination.
By 1964, the world was falling in love with Motown – and with Mary Wells. The label's records were making a splash on the British charts, and when The Beatles were asked who their favorite American singer was, they said Mary Wells. In fact, the Lads from Liverpool so admired her music that they invited her to open for them on their U.K. tour. Wells agreed and crossed the pond, making her the first Motown star to perform in the United Kingdom. Later, Wells recorded a tribute album on which she sang some of her favorite Beatles songs.
In later years, Mary Wells and Motown went their separate ways. When Wells died, 20 years ago today, she hadn't been with the label for more than 25 years… but she'll always be remembered as the First Lady of Motown.
Written by Linnea Crowther