Wanda Young, Motown Hitmaker With the Marvelettes, Dies at 78

Wanda LaFaye Young was born on Aug. 9, 1943, in Eloise, Mich., and grew up in Inkster, about 20 miles west of Detroit. Her father, James, worked for the Ford Motor Company, and her mother, Beatrice (Dawson) Young, was a homemaker.

Ms. Young, whose early ambition was to be a pediatric nurse, joined the Marvelettes after one of the original members had to leave.

Ms. Horton had formed a quintet in 1960 with three high school classmates, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman and Juanita Cowart, and a recent graduate, Georgia Dobbins. The group — then called the Casinyets, a contraction of “can’t sing yet” — competed in a talent show whose top three finishers were to receive an audition with Motown. The quintet didn’t win, but a teacher helped get them an audition anyway. Motown executives were impressed but told the young women that they needed to return with original material.

They did: Ms. Dobbins’s friend William Garrett had composed a blues song, which Ms. Dobbins rewrote and recast as a pop song, about a girl pining for mail from her distant boyfriend. “Please Mr. Postman” was a hit, but Ms. Dobbins left the group before it was recorded because her mother was ill and her father had forbade her to be involved in the music business. Ms. Horton recruited Ms. Young.

“She wanted to know if I could sing alto, and I said, ‘I think I can sing all of them — soprano, second soprano and alto,’” Ms. Young said in an interview with Blues & Soul magazine in 1990. “So that evening I went over to Georgeanna’s house and instantly became a member of the group.”

Ms. Horton sang lead on the song. Three months after its release, it became a No. 1 hit.

While Ms. Young fondly recalled the family atmosphere that Mr. Gordy fostered at Motown, she was disappointed when he moved the company to Los Angeles in 1972.

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