Wanda Young, Former Lead Singer of the Marvelettes, Passes Away at 78

Motown singing group The Marvelettes (from left: Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman (Gordon), Wanda Young (Rogers), and Katherine Anderson) in 1964. Image:James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images.

Wanda Young, a former lead singer of the Marvelettes, one of the early girl groups that helped shape the Motown sound, passed away on Dec. 15 outside of Detroit, the New York Times reported. She was 78.

Young’s daughter Meta Ventress confirmed that she passed from complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Born on Aug. 9, 1943, in Eloise, Michigan, Young grew up in Inkster, about 20 miles west of Detroit. Her father, James, worked for the Ford Motor Company, and her mother, Beatrice (Dawson)Young, was a homemaker.

Early on Young, wanted to be a pediatric nurse but all of that would change after she accepted an invitation to join a local girl group.

Gladys Horton had formed the quintet back in 1960 with three high school classmates and glee club members, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, and Juanita Cowart, and a recent graduate, Georgia Dobbins, who Young would eventually replace. Soon afterward, the group landed a recording contract with Berry Gordy’s Motown record label after a successful audition. Just a month later, The Marvelettes’ hit tune “Please Mr. Postman” became the fledgling label’s first number one song.

The group followed the hit with popular songs like “My Baby Must Be A Magician” and “Don’t Mess With Bill,” written by Smokey Robinson, and featured Young on lead vocals.

Robinson lauded Young for her vocal prowess in Fred Bronson’s liner notes to the 1993 Marvelettes compilation, “Deliver: The Singles (1961-1971).

“Wanda had this little voice that was sexy to me, a little country kind of voice,”  Robinson recalled. “I knew if I could get a song to her, it would be a smash.”

Other songs penned by Robinson that Young’s sang lead on were: “I’ll Keep Holding On,” which peaked at No. 34 on the Billboard chart in 1965; “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game,” which rose to No. 13 in 1967; and the aforementioned “My Baby Must Be a Magician,” which rose to No. 17 in 1968.

After a lineup change, the group became a trio. The Marvelettes formally disbanded in 1970.

The Marvelettes, who recorded for Motown’s Tamla label, charted over 20 singles on the Billboard charts.

Along with Ventress, Young is survived by her two sons Robert III and Bobbae Rogers, whom she shared with former Miracles singer and ex-husband Bobby Rogers; seven grandchildren; a great-grandson; four sisters—Adoria Williams, Cynthia Young, Regina Young, and Beatrice Wilson; and four brothers—James Jr., Stephen, Paul, and Reginald Young. Another daughter, Miracle Rogers, passed away in 2015. 

We extend our prayers and condolences to the family and friends of Wanda Young.

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