Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar [NOOK Book]

Overview

Complete with never-before-revealed details about the sex, violence, and drugs in her life, this biography reveals the incredibly turbulent life of Motown artist Mary Wells. Based in part on four hours of previously unreleased and unpublicized deathbed interviews with Wells, this account delves deeply into her rapid rise and long fall as a recording artist, her spectacular romantic and family life, the violent incidents in which she was a participant, and her abuse of drugs. From tumultuous affairs, including one...

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Mary Wells: The Tumultuous Life of Motown's First Superstar

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Overview

Complete with never-before-revealed details about the sex, violence, and drugs in her life, this biography reveals the incredibly turbulent life of Motown artist Mary Wells. Based in part on four hours of previously unreleased and unpublicized deathbed interviews with Wells, this account delves deeply into her rapid rise and long fall as a recording artist, her spectacular romantic and family life, the violent incidents in which she was a participant, and her abuse of drugs. From tumultuous affairs, including one with R&B superstar Jackie Wilson, to a courageous battle with throat cancer that climaxed in her gutsiest performance, this history draws upon years of interviews with Wells’s friends, lovers, and husband to tell the whole story of a woman whose songs crossed the color line and whose voice captivated the Beatles.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Benjaminson follows his definitive biography of Supremes vocalist Florence Ballard (The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard) with the first biography devoted solely to the tumultuous life of Motown hit maker Mary Wells. "My Guy" remains the singer's signature tune, but she was much more than a one-hit wonder (Benjaminson provides an extensive discography), and readers will be fascinated by the trajectory of Well's career, her personal and professional choices, and, ultimately, her tenacity. Wells was signed to Motown at the age of 17 after cornering label chief Berry Gordy at a Detroit nightclub. Success followed and she hit the top of the national charts. She regretted her decision to leave Motown at the age of 21 and never achieved the same level of success. Near the end of her life, Wells lost her ability to sing because of throat cancer. Through his extensive research and interviews, Benjaminson once again gives her voice. VERDICT A fascinating narrative of the life of a popular music icon. Recommended for anyone interested in Motown or the history of American music.—Bill Baars, Lake Oswego P.L., OR
Publishers Weekly
Benjaminson (The Lost Supreme) delivers another excellent and fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the artists who made Motown Records a massive success in the 1960s. He sympathetically recounts the tumultuous life of singer Mary Wells, who gave the company its first #1 hit in 1964—“My Guy,” which Mary Wilson of the Supremes called “the epitome of the Motown Sound.” Relying heavily on four hours of interviews with Wells done by author Steve Bergsman between 1990 and 1992, as well as his own numerous interviews with friends, lovers, and business associates, Benjaminson describes how Wells became “a Motown goddess: its premiere female vocalist, a position she would hold without challenge from 1962 to 1964,” when she suddenly left Motown, leaving the Supremes to become Motown’s most commercially successful vocal group. He details how Wells’s success “held the company together economically while the Supremes were struggling to gain traction”; he explores the facts behind her belief that her Motown contract was unfair; and he recounts in detail her recordings for a series of companies, including Atlantic Records, where she never was able to repeat her past glory. But Benjaminson shows that while Wells struggled through problems with men, money, and drugs until she died of throat cancer in 1992, she never stopped performing to adoring audiences—with “My Guy” as her signature song. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

"In the end, Wells' story is the stuff of great art. Operas like "La Traviata" and "La Bohème" are centered on such characters; Edgar Allan Poe said that the death of a beautiful woman is the most poetical topic in the world. When you finish this book, you will mourn Mary Wells, sure, and be grateful for the music she left. But don't be surprised if you find that, like John, Paul, George and Ringo, you are more than a little in love with her as well."
-Wall Street Journal

"Peter Benjaminson pays tribute to the remarkable life of Mary Wells through a fascinating biography. His relentless research has resulted in not only a riveting tale of Wells's many personal battles but also a gripping snapshot of the music industry in which she worked. Motown's first superstar is given top-of-the-charts treatment in this terrific book."  —Gerald Posner, author, Motown, Why America Slept, and Case Closed

"I thought I knew all there was to know about Mary Wells. I was wrong. Here, Peter Benjaminson tells Mary's story with great love and compassion in a way that informs even the so-called experts. I love Peter's work, and am happy to see Mary Wells finally be given the recognition she so deserves."  —J. Randy Taraborrelli, author, Michael Jackson, After Camelot, and The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe

"Peter Benjaminson does an admirable job with Mary Wells, presenting thoroughly researched scholarship, but always going back to reminding the reader of the soaring voice, and wide heart, of Motown's first superstar."  —Charles R. Cross, author, Heavier than Heaven and Room Full of Mirrors

"Mary Wells has finally found 'My Guy'—and it is her biographer Peter Benjaminson. This is a match made in music heaven."  —Al Abrams, author, Hype & Soul: Behind the Scenes at Motown

"Peter exposes the raw truth contained in never-before-released audio interviews with Mary as she lay on her deathbed. This fascinating story hits bookstores everywhere on November 1." — Sister 2 Sister magazine

"Benjaminson (The Lost Supreme) delivers another excellent and fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the artists who made Motown Records a massive success in the 1960s." — Publishers Weekly

"A fascinating narrative of the life of a popular music icon." —Library Journal

Kirkus Reviews
From journalist and Motown chronicler Benjaminson (The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard, 2009, etc.), a compelling, sympathetic biography of Motown's first diva Mary Wells (1943–1992). Before Diana Ross or any other Motown star, there was Wells. Discovered at age 17 by Berry Gordy, president of the then-fledgling Motown, in 1960, the young Detroit schoolgirl went on to create a number of crossover hits (appealing to both black and white audiences), including her signature song, "My Guy." Wells would define the style (long gowns and glamour) for later female Motown artists and the sound ("a strong melody, a noticeable beat, and accessibility for all") that would bring enormous success and wealth to Motown. Yet, in a dispute over money, Wells left Motown, and while she spent the rest of her life trying to do so, she was never able to equal the success she had there. Trekking from one record company to another, she could never recreate the elusive magic of recording for Motown. "Nostalgia," however, "kept her performing career alive," and she performed "almost every other night, week after week," becoming, for better or worse, "Queen of the Oldies." Benjaminson ably captures the artistic milieu of early Motown, in which Wells' art flourished. He also offers an unvarnished account of her tumultuous personal life: her numerous, sometimes disastrous, relations with a series of men, the drug and alcohol addictions that consumed her later in life, and her long battle to defeat the cancer that would take her life. While a flawed figure, Wells faced life's hardships "by struggling and achieving until the very end." A moving tribute to an artist who should not be forgotten.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781613745298
  • Publisher: Chicago Review Press, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 11/1/2012
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 648,402
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Peter Benjaminson is the author of The Lost Supreme: The Life of Dreamgirl Florence Ballard, The Story of Motown, and, with David Anderson, Investigative Reporting. He has written numerous stories for the Detroit Free Press, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and other publications.
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Table of Contents

Author's Note ix

Preface xi

1 Little Mary Wells 1

2 Twenty-Two Takes 12

3 On Stage with Motown 26

4 Herman Griffin 31

5 Ambushed by the Girl Groups 37

6 Smokey Robinson 41

7 The Motown Revues 47

8 David Ruffin and Holland-Dozier-Holland 57

9 "My Guy" 65

10 "The Girl Who Beat the Beatles" 71

11 Trouble at the Top 77

12 Fighting Motown for Her Freedom 90

13 An Explosive Confrontation 101

14 Moving to Twentieth 109

15 Jackie Wilson and Carl Davis 116

16 Singing for Twentieth 123

17 Swimming the Wide Atlantic 133

18 Two Brothers and I Ain't Ashamed 141

19 The Years of Jubilee 153

20 Curtis Womack 160

21 Mary on Drugs and Booze 173

22 Still on the Road, Still on Her Own 183

23 Coming in from the Applause 189

24 Kidnapped for a Song? 201

25 On the Road Again 205

26 An English Revival 216

27 Last Cruise to Catalina 221

28 Wells vs. Cancer 227

29 Going for Broke 236

30 My Heart Is Steadfast 243

31 You Beat Me to the Punch 250

Epilogue Some Further Doings 256

Acknowledgments 260

Appendix 1 US and UK Discography 263

Appendix 2 Unreleased Mary Wells Tracks 275

Appendix 3 TV, Video, and Film Appearances 276

Appendix 4 1991 Suit against Motown Records 278

Sources 281

Index 289

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2013

    Highly recommended - very enlightening!

    I chose this book based on the subject. I grew up on the Motown Sound and was a big fan! I loved Mary Wells' music and I am loving this book!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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