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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

August 21, 1961

Welcome to the twenty-first of August! Today happens to be Tuesday, and today is the day that we look back through time to a particular event in history that is linked to this date. The topic that I have chosen for today is one that I think could be a lot of fun, and I'll give you a bit of a hint to chew on as we look back on other happenings of August 21. Today's Tuesday Timeline feature has to do with music.

Ponder that for a moment while we take a look back on other events that have happened on August 21. We'll start with celebrity birthdates.

As it turns out, quite a few celebrities are celebrating a birthday today. These celebrities include Melvin Van Peebles, Janet Baker, Robert Stone, Kenny Rogers, Clarence Williams III, Jackie DeShannon, Peter Weir, Patty McCormack, Loretta Devine, Harry Smith, Margo Kane, Keith Hart, Kim Cattrall, Steve Smith (Journey), Jim McMahon, Jeff Stryker, Carrie-Anne Moss, Dina Carroll, Alicia Witt, Brody Jenner, Melissa Schuman, B.J. Upton, Hayden Panettiere, and Jamia Simone Nash.

And here are some of the major historical events that have taken place on August 21.

1770 – James Cook formally claims Australia for Great Britain, and bestows upon it the name of New South Wales

1778 – British forces begin besieging French outpost at Pondicherry during American Revolutionary War

1810 – Jean-Baptiste Bernadotte is elected Crown Prince of Sweden

1821 – Jarvis Island discovered by crew of the Eliza Francis

1831 – Nat Turner leads black slaves and free blacks in a rebellion

1863 – The town of Lawrence, Kansas is destroyed by Confederate guerillas “Quantrill's Raiders in the Lawrence Massacre

1888 – The adding machine is invented and patented by William Seward Burroughs

1906 – Famed animator Friz Freleng is born in Kansas City, Missouri

1911 – Leonardo da Vinci's “Mona Lisa” is stolen by a Louvre employee

1940 – Russian revolutionary figure Leon Trotsky dies from his injuries following an attack from an undercover NKVD agent the day before

1959 – President Dwight D. Eisenhower signs executive order admitting Hawaii as the fiftieth American state

1968 – James Anderson Jr. is awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor, the first to be awarded to an African-American U.S. Marine

1969 – Australian Denis Michael Rohan torches Al-Aqsa Mosque, which was a major catalyst behind the formation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation

1976 – Operation Paul Bunyan at Panmujom, South Korea

1979 – Soviet dancer Alexander Godunov defects to the United States

1981 – Michael Devine, a volunteer of the Irish Liberation Army dies after fasting for 62 days during Ireland's 1981 hunger strike

1983 – Philippine opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. is assassinated at the Manila International Airport

1986 – An eruption of carbon dioxide gas from Lake Nyos in Cameroon kills 1,800 people within a 20 kilometer range

1991 – Coup attempt against Mikhail Gorbachev collapses

1992 – Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho begins

2007 – Hurricane Dean makes landfall in Mexico as a Category 5 storm, the first Category 5 storm to make landfall since Hurricane Andrew struck Florida in August 1992

That's quite a lot of stuff that happened on this date, isn't it?

So, how far back in time are we going to go this week?

Well, how about we take a trip back in time to a little over five decades ago? Does August 21, 1961 sound like a great date to discuss? I think it is.

So, the year is 1961. That year, newly elected American president John F. Kennedy delivers his first State of the Union address, the Bay of Pigs invasion in Cuba begins, and The Dick Van Dyke show debuted on CBS.

And, on August 21, 1961, an established record company was set to release a brand new hit by an all-girl group.

Have you ever heard of a group known as “The Marvelettes”? No? Well, fear not. I'll introduce you to them now.

The origin of The Marvelettes dates back to 1960, when each of the members were members of a high school glee club. At Inkster High School in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, Michigan, one member of the glee club, fifteen-year-old Gladys Horton formed the Marvelettes along with Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart, and Georgia Dobbins. Dobbins was already a high school graduate, but Anderson, Tillman, and Cowart were also a part of Inkster High's glee club.

Now, I suppose you're wondering how the band ended up getting their name. I'll get to that a little bit later in this entry. But one of the first names that the band came up with stemmed from an off the cuff remark that one of the members uttered while they were brainstorming name ideas. When the member remarked that they “can't sing yet”, Horton altered the saying just enough to come up with their first band name, “The Casinyets”.

By early 1961, the band decided that name just wasn't working out, and soon began calling themselves “The Marvels”. When a teacher suggested that the band try out for a talent show contest, the band decided to take the suggestion, and as a result ended up winning fourth place in the contest. Unfortunately, only the top three acts won the prizes...a chance to audition for a recording contract with Motown Records.

Luckily the girls had a couple of teachers who really sung their praises, and because of this, “The Marvels” were also given a chance to sing for the Motown executives. After passing the first auditions with Robert Bateman and Brian Holland, “The Marvels” ended up auditioning in front of Smokey Robinson and Motown founder Berry Gordy. Gordy was impressed by the vocal talents of the group, but he still wasn't convinced that they were good enough to be signed to Motown. He issued the band a challenge...come up with an original song composition and perform it for them. If he liked it, they would get a contract.

So, the band returned to Inkster, where Georgia Dobbins took it upon herself to write the song for the band. She ended up making contact with a local musician named William Garrett who had been working on a song at the time. It was an unfinished blues composition, and Dobbins believed that she could take his composition and turn it into an original song. Garrett agreed to hand his work over to Dobbins and The Marvels on one case the song became a hit, he wanted his name kept on his work. Dobbins agreed, took the song home, and re-worked it into a teenage doo-wop song, suitable for performing in front of Berry Gordy.

The stage was set for The Marvels to return to Motown to wow Berry Gordy with their song. However, before the trip to Motown was set to happen, Georgia Dobbins unexpectedly left the group. Apparently Georgia's father was concerned about her role in the band, and advised her not to continue in a career in show business, so Dobbins left The Marvels. But while Dobbins' time with the band was over, she was determined not to prevent the other girls from trying to make it big with Motown. She handed Gladys Horton the new song that she had worked on, as well as leaving her with full control of the group before departing the group for good. With the band down a member, the decision was made by the whole band to replace her. Dobbins' replacement was another graduate of Inkster High, Wanda Young.

With Young firmly in place in the group, The Marvels performed once again in front of Berry Gordy, and once again, Berry Gordy was impressed. A recording contract was drafted up and they were signed to Motown's Tamla division in the summer of 1961. But before the band could begin recording, Berry Gordy decided that the band needed to have their name tweaked just a smidgen. Instead of The Marvels, Gordy decided to bestow upon them the name of “The Marvelettes”.

By the way...did you want to know what song ended up getting The Marvelettes that recording contract? The one that William Garrett handed over to Georgia Dobbins to rework into a hit? Here it is.

ARTIST: The Marvelettes
SONG: Please Mr. Postman
ALBUM: Please Mr. Postman
DATE RELEASED: August 21, 1961

Please Mr. Postman” was the debut release of The Marvelettes. The song is all about a woman who is waiting for the postman to bring her a letter from her boyfriend who is away fighting in a war.

Gladys Horton provides the lead vocals for the song, and here's a little bit of trivia for you...the band playing in the song was provided by The Funk Brothers, with Marvin Gaye playing the drums!

The song “Please Mr. Postman” helped bring much fame and acclaim to The Marvelettes, who ended up recording several other hit singles following this one. But the song was also notable for a couple of other reasons.

First, the song was one that ended up having five different writers credited to the song, due to the fact that the song was reworked at least three times before being released. Georgia Dobbins, William Garrett, Freddie Gorman, Brian Holland, and Robert Bateman have all been issued songwriting credits for the song.

But even more impressive? The song ended up being Motown Records first #1 hit!

It took some time for the song to make it to the top of the charts, but on December 11, 1961, “Please Mr. Postman” was the #1 song on Billboard. It only lasted a week on the charts before being unseated by The Tokens' “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” on December 18, but still, it was a significant source of pride for the record company, and it only became the first of many #1 hit singles linked to Motown.

Of course, it was also a source of pride for The Marvelettes as well. Not too many artists see their debut single become a #1 hit, so the fact that “Please Mr. Postman” did so well on the charts was a bonus for the band.

Unfortunately, that song would become the band's only #1 single. Between 1961 and 1971, the band released twenty-eight singles, but only three managed to reach the Top 10...two of which stalled at the number seven position. During this period, Georgeanne Tillman was forced to leave the band in 1964 after being diagnosed with lupus, and just three years later, Gladys Horton departed from The Marvelettes following the birth of her first child, who was born with cerebral palsy. The remaining members of the band continued on before parting ways in 1971.

So, what has become of The Marvelettes since then? Sadly, two of the original members of the band are no longer with us. Georgeanne Tillman succumbed to lupus in 1980 at the age of 36, while Gladys Horton passed away in 2011 at the age of 65. The other members retired from the music industry, and reunited with each other for an episode of the television series “Unsung”.

Please Mr. Postman”. The Marvelettes' only number one hit, and the first of many huge successes for Motown Records.

And, it all happened on August 21, 1961.

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