Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music
(b 13 May 1943, Detroit MI; d of cancer 26 July 1992, Los Angeles CA) Soul singer, one of the first Motown stars and still many people's favourite. She began singing at age ten, sang in local clubs and talent contests. In Motown's early days the label held open auditions; she walked in hoping to sell a song; Berry Gordy bought song and singer at a time when Smokey Robinson was virtually the only other artist under contract: 'Bye Bye Baby' went top 50, first of eleven Hot 100 entries on Motown '61-4, including top tens 'The One Who Really Loves You', 'You Beat Me To The Punch' and 'Two Lovers', culminating with the no. 1 classic 'My Guy', all written for her by Smokey: 'My Guy' was the first Tamla/Motown record to reach no. 1 in the UK; admired by the Beatles, she toured with them ('John Lennon was funny but always gentle to me, always respectful. I have a hard time with the fact that some fool murdered the man.')
Lured by the empty promise of a film contract she switched to 20th Century-Fox (able to leave Motown because she'd been underage when she signed there); she had five hits on that label '64-5 but only 'Use Your Head' reached the top 20. Two minor hits on Atlantic/Atco '66 and one on Jubilee '68 saw her leave the pop chart, though she had two more top 40 hits '69 on Jubliee in the black chart (which in that year belatedly changed its name from Rhythm and Blues to Soul). She also recorded for Reprise and Epic; married Cecil Womack and raised three children; they were divorced and Curtis, another member of the Womack clan, became her manager and companion. Years after her biggest success, playing oldies ('but goodies') shows, she realized the fans' love for her would never die. There was an excellent profile in Gerri Hirshey's Nowhere To Run: The Story Of Soul Music '84; see also Where Did Our Love Go? '85, the Motown story by Nelson George.