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The Andantes: Motown's Secret Blend

The Andantes were Motown Records’ house backup singers. They were recorded on virtually every song ever produced by the company and while everyone who’s heard a Motown song has heard their voices, most people have no idea who they were.

AIRED: September 14, 2021 | 0:12:18

- All right here we go, letter C.

One, two,

one, two.

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- The very first day of Motown, Berry Gordy,

who started Motown sat us down, he said,

"I'm going to start my own record company.

We are not just gonna make black music,

we're gonna make music for the world."

And that's what we set out to do.

And we did it.

- Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells,

The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Supremes.

We were all part of that phenomena that was Motown.

Motown represented a place where we could

find out what our talents were.

- Motown was everything.

It was this collection of superstars

who were able to make this incredible music.

And you have one of the greatest background groups ever,

in terms of The Andantes.

The Andantes are one of the most important groups

in Motown history.

They are also the classic unsung background singers

who most people have never heard of.

♪ Ain't that peculiar

♪ Ain't it peculiar, honey

♪ Ain't that peculiar

♪ Peculiar as can be

- Well when I first came to Motown,

they told me that I belonged in the

Metropolitan Opera Company.

- You did. [laughs]

- Jack,

- But no, we could tell.

- Okay, well my family wanted me to sing opera,

you know, but it turned out good.

- I cannot remember the very

first time I heard myself on the radio.

It might be "My Guy" by Mary Wells.

- Yeah.

- 'Cause wasn't that a million seller?

- Yeah.

- That was our, you know, first million seller.

♪ The place of my guy

♪ My guy ♪ My guy

♪ He may

- That core Motown sound, you could not have it

without The Andantes.

They were recorded far more in number

than any other recording artist here.

I'm not afraid to say 20,000.

It may have been more.

Nobody could even mimic them.

♪ Stop! In the name of love

♪ Before - I was 19.

- I was 19, too.

I was here, - No you weren't.

- Yes I was, but I was here before you.

- We weren't 19 together, nah.

Yeah, she got here first.

I think Marlene was like, well she was a year younger.

- Yeah.

- So Marlene was 18.

- They knew each other's sound.

And they knew their place within the sound.

♪ All we need is music, sweet music ♪

When you record, the microphone tells you

exactly what you're working with.

And if that needs a little bit of help,

the groups didn't have any problem with The Andantes

supplementing their sound.

They never sang a bad note, and they had a blend.

I think it was like a heavenly gift that they had.

♪ Dancing ♪ Dancing in the street

♪ They're dancing in the street ♪

- First time, first song, blend, perfect blend.

♪ This is an invitation

- The soprano voice actually carries the melody,

and you have the second girl,

she keeps it together, like the glue in the middle,

and then you have your lower voice and it really

stacks it on good, you know,

and that's it.

- It's all about the background.

- Yes.

- It really is

about background. - Their tones were so close.

Their harmony was just so close, it was just amazing.

[upbeat music]

- We buy a record and we listen to the songs

and we hear the front people,

"Oh we love The Supremes, oh we love Smokey Robinson,

oh we love Marvin Gaye."

But what really is instrumental in that sound

is what's surrounding it.

♪ Baby, everything is all right ♪

- We worked with Stevie, yes, yes!

- That little boy was phenomenal.

- [Louvain] A mischievous little fella.

He'd get on the phone and pretend like he was Berry Gordy.

♪ Hahahaha, yeah

♪ Baby

- The Andantes were our



They sung on everybody's records

that you've ever heard from Motown.

♪ Going to a go-go

♪ Na na na na, yeah

They were three of the greatest singers ever in life.

[Smokey laughs]

- [Louvain] Smokey, a genius.

- Smokey always knew

- [Both] Exactly what he wanted.

- He would be in a room and he came up with a good idea

and you'd see him [swooshes] he'd run through the house

like a shooting star or something, you know.

And he had that pencil behind his ear

and he was just always writing.

- They were my sisters.

We were family.

We were kids growing up there together,

and we not only did stuff musically together, socially.

You knew that when you got back to Detroit,

if you wanted to see everybody, all you had to do was

go to Hitsville, 'cause everybody's gonna be there.

And that's where we hung out.

All day, all night.

- [Interviewer] Everything happened in Studio A, right?

- Not everything. [laughs]

Not everything happened in Studio A, no.

But the recording certainly was in Studio A.

♪ Listen everybody ♪ Everybody

- Some days we were at the studio 24 hours

because you know, we'd get ready to leave and we'd like,

you know, "Oh Marvin's in town, he's at the airport."

You know, "Come back."

We'd come back, we're here another two or three hours.

And we'd get ready to leave again and they'll say,

"Well Diane's flying in."

♪ Witness

Everybody was in this room.

The whole band, - Funk Brothers over here.

- Even when they did the symphony orchestra,

they were down here.

♪ Witness

It was tiny but everybody, they made it fit.

- A lot of times if the lead singers couldn't quite

nail those notes, male or female, the producers would say,

"Thank you very much, let's take five."

The Andantes would come in the back door,

and they would sing it.

♪ My world is empty without you, babe ♪

- It wasn't our choice.

Sometimes there was a little ill feelings, you know,

we could feel it.

- But it was quicker if it was just us.

You know, and then sometimes they would have the voices,

their voices on and we'd come and add to,

making a fuller sound. - Mm-hm.

- And sometimes making it

a song. [laughs]

- Come on, now.

- [Interviewer] What does that mean?

- What that means is,

- That it didn't sound good till we got on it. [laughs]

♪ I'll be there

- You just knew that it was good even before

you heard the playback.

I think it made me appreciate the music

that came out of us.

Not just me, it was us.

It was our sound.

And we had a sound that other people

were trying to duplicate.

- You know, we have artists, every genre of artist

that you can imagine,

that come through Hitsville, USA.

And every single one of them acknowledges

how important, you know, the role that Motown

played in helping them to shape their own sound.

And if you didn't have The Andantes, you wouldn't have

that magic sauce in the Motown sound.

That's what that is.

♪ It took me by surprise, I must say ♪

♪ When I

- You know they spotlight this group because

they're so good, the sound is just perfect,

like Marvin Gaye's "Heard It Through The Grapevine."

♪ Heard it through the grapevine, not much longer ♪

♪ Would you be my baby

Just think about that.

You know The Andantes will give you chills.

- Now you would be in the studio longer with Marvin

than with anybody else.

You just had to be spot-on for him.

You know, and sometimes we'd say, "Well is that it?"

"Well no, I'm just not hearing it."

You know, and good Lord, sometimes you come back for days

with Marvin.

But when he put it out there, it was right

and it was ready, you know?

- The Four Tops were really all good enough

completely by themselves, but they just wanted

female voices to enhance their sound,

and that's how we were lucky enough to be on

all of their music.

- The last thing that we did with The Four Tops

was "Bernadette."

And we did that in one session, and it was a great session.

♪ Ah

[upbeat music]

♪ Ooh ooh ooh ooh

Diana Ross and The Supremes.

♪ Ah

- [Interviewer] What did you sing on with them?

- Just about everything, yes.

- They became the choral sound of Motown.

What was really beautiful about The Andantes was that

they could adjust to whatever the sound was.

♪ Love child

Sometimes with The Supremes, The Andantes

were brought in to make a fuller sound because

we were only three.

It's like baking a cake.

If you don't put sugar in it, everything's important.

[upbeat music]

- Up until Marlene passed away, I think we were really

the only original girl group with every member still living.

So it was quite a loss to us, you know, to lose her.

♪ Ah, ah

♪ Where did all the blue skies go ♪

♪ Poison is the wind that blows ♪

- She was like a sister that I didn't have.

The one that would always patch things up.


♪ Ah things ain't what they used to be ♪

♪ Na, na

I loved, [sobs] I really loved her.

- It was just a beautiful relationship.

I miss her, and I loved her, you know?

[upbeat music]

- The magic that, you know, The Andantes

and so many others made in this space,

it's 60 years later and it's still influencing music.

- Honestly, there's not a day that go by that I do not

hear myself on the radio.

And I appreciate it and I smile

and hum along with it. [laughs]

- You know, somebody asked me one time

about being a backup singer, and I said

"I'm not just a backup singer, a singer."

A singer.

And behind people you get a chance to enhance what they do.

And if you're good, it turns out pretty good.

♪ Heatwave ♪ I can't keep from cryin'

♪ Just like a heatwave

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