Soul stalwart MABLE JOHN died on Thursday Augst 25th in Los Angeles. She was aged 91 and will be remembered for being the first female solo singer signed to Motown, for her time with the Raelettes, for her Stax recordings and for her unstinting charity work.
Motown Museum exec Robin Terry posted: “We are deeply saddened by the death of Dr. Mable John. A truly unique talent, Mabel was an instrumental figure in Berry Gordy’s early career, assisting him with his day-to-day work as a budding songwriter and music producer. Receiving coaching as one of Berry’s first artists, she became the first solo female artist signed to the Tamla label. Her hard work and creativity in Motown’s early development days helped the company become an international sensation. Our hearts are with her family, friends, and fans all over the world”.
Born in Louisiana in 1930, Mable was the oldest of 9 siblings – one of her brothers was the ill-fated R&B singer Little Willie John. The family eventually moved to Detroit where Mable found a job working for an insurance company run by Berry Gordy’s mother. Berry was impressed when he heard her sing and he signed her to his fledgling company and also worked with her on her live engagements . However her “down home”, old school style didn’t suit the “Sound Of Young America” template and after several releases (notably ‘Who Wouldn’t Love a Man Like That?’ and ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words’) Berry let her go.
Ms John was then recruited as one of Ray Charles’ Raelettes. In 1966 she signed a solo contract with Stax – a label more suited to her rootsy style. At Stax she enjoyed a top ten hit with ‘Your Good Thing Is About To End’ . She eventually re-joined the Raelettes but in 1973 she turned away from secular music and began managing gospel artists. In 1986 she founded a charity to help feed the homeless in Los Angeles and was awarded a Doctor of Divinity degree. She continued to sing Gospel but occasionally performed and recorded secular music – most notably working with Ian Levine’s revival set up MotorCity Records. In 2014 she appeared in the Oscar-winning 2014 documentary ‘2’0 Feet From Stardom’. John also teamed up with music writer David Ritz to write three fiction books that were loosely based on her life experiences.
Mable John is survived by son Limuel Taylor, daughter Sherry Archar and grandson Jesse Jr. She is also survived by three great-granddaughters Jasmine, Lindsey, and Leslie; and her last brother, Mertis.