Mable John, the first female solo artist signed to Motown (then Tamla) Records, a Stax singer and longtime Ray Charles collaborator, has died at the age of 91.
Thursday at her home in Los Angeles; No cause of death has been revealed. “We love him and he’s a good guy,” his grandson Kevin John told the Detroit News.
Sister of singer RandB and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame freelance artist Little Willie John, Mable John was born in Louisiana and raised in the South before John’s family moved to Detroit in the early 1940s. Like his musical family, John embarked on a singing career, opening the doors to artists like Billie Holiday.
At the same time, Mable John also works at the Friendship Mutual Insurance Agency, a company run by Bertha Gordy, mother of music producer Berry Gordy. “He had no money and no way to get around, but he had people who wanted to listen to his songs, so I drove him away,” John said of Gordy.
After one of Gordy’s first songs – “Got a Job” by Smokey Robinson and Miracles – failed to secure distribution, Gordy founded his own Tamla label in 1958. John became a solo artist. first signed and recorded on the label, two years later became Motown Records.
For the legendary label, Mable John recorded blues singles such as “Who wouldn’t love a man like that”, “Actions speak louder than words”, “I’m finally over with you” (returning). again by the Supremes, followed by “Les Primettes”) and “Take Me” with Les Temptations.
However, just as Motown was dominating the charts with RandB and soul hits, John, a blues artist, left the label in 1965. “Motown was getting too popular and I knew I wasn’t. It’s pop music, but writers are writing to succeed,” said John (via The Detroit News). “Berry was too busy with his business, and I found myself without a writer as focused on me as I was. the way Berry focused on me.”
Mable John soon reconnected with his friend Al Bell, who convinced the singer to sign to the Memphis label he had recently taken over, Stax Records. John’s hand on this iconic label, “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)”, written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, became a RandB chart-topping single, and was later covered by other artists. singers such as Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and Bar-Kays.
However, after two years and a handful of bachelors, Mable John left Stax, the exit of which coincided with the 1968 death of his brother Little Willie John while in prison for manslaughter. After a brief hiatus in his musical career, John reappeared as music director and vocalist of Ray Charles’ popular band Raelettes; During his tenure with Charles, John wrote more than 50 songs with the legendary RandB, wrote uDiscoverMusic.
Later in her career, Mable John moved away from secular music and focused instead on gospel songs – she became a preacher and received a doctorate in theology – as well as founding Los Angeles’ Joy Community Outreach, a charity that helps feed the homeless. John was also the blues singer in director John Sayles’ 2007 film Honeydripper and featured in 20 Feet From Stardom, the Oscar-winning documentary about backup singers.