Mable John, Motown’s first female solo artist, dies at 91 – Rolling Stone
Mable John, the first female solo artist signed to Motown (then Tamla) Records, singer of Stax and longtime collaborator of Ray Charles, died at the age of 91.
John died Thursday at her home in Los Angeles; no cause of death has been revealed. “We loved him and he was a nice person”, his nephew Kevin John say it Detroit News.
The older sister of R&B singer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Little Willie John, Mable was born in Louisiana and raised in the South before the John family moved to Detroit in the early 1940s. Like her musical family, John embarked on a singing career, opening for artists like Billie Holiday.
At the same time, Mable John also worked at the Friendship Mutual Insurance Agency, a company run by Bertha Gordy, the mother of Berry Gordy, then an aspiring music producer. “He had no money and no way to get around, but he had these people who wanted to hear his songs, so I drove him,” John said of Gordy.
After one of Gordy’s first songs—”Got a Job” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles—failed to secure distribution, Gordy founded her own Tamla label in 1958. John became the first solo artist to sign and record on the label, which two years later became Motown Records.
For the legendary label, John recorded blues singles like “Who Wouldn’t Love a Man Like That”, “Action Speaks Louder Than Words”, “I’m Last Through with You” (back by the Supremes, then “Les Primettes”) and “Take Me” alongside Les Temptations.
However, just as Motown was taking over the charts with its R&B and soul hits, John, a blues artist, left the label in 1965. “Motown was getting so pop, and I knew I wasn’t pop, but write them to be successful,” John said (via The Detroit News). “Berry was so busy with the business, and I found myself without a writer to focus on me the way Berry had focused on me.”
Shortly after, John reconnects with his friend Al Bell, who convinces the singer to sign with the Memphis label he has just taken over, Stax Records. John’s debut single on this iconic label, “Your Good Thing (Is About to End)” written by Isaac Hayes and David Porter, became a top 10 single on the R&B charts, and was subsequently covered by singers. like Bonnie Raitt, Etta James and the Bar-Kays.
However, after two years and a handful of singles, John left Stax, an exit that 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 re-emerged as musical director and vocalist for Ray Charles’ famous backing band Raelettes; during his tenure with Charles, John wrote over 50 songs with the R&B legend, uDiscoverMusic writes.
Later in her career, John moved away from secular music and instead focused 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 helped feed and clothe the homeless. John also as a blues singer in director John Sayles’ 2007 film Honeydripper and featured in 20 feet from famethe Oscar-winning documentary about choristers.