Motown veteran, Mable John passed away Thursday (Aug. 25) at the age of 91.
She was the first solo female artist signed by Berry Gordy to Tamla Records, a label that would later become Motown. From 1958 to 1962, her time with the legendary label was punctuated by blues recordings like “Who Wouldn’t Love A Man Like That,” “No Love,” and “Actions Speak Louder Than Words.” Before Motown megastars like Martha & the Vandellas, The Temptations, and The Supremes became household names, they were all singing background vocals and providing harmonies for John.
After Motown, she performed on and off for several years in Ray Charles’ backing band, The Raelettes, lending her authoritative voice to a number of iconic tunes. John also signed with Stax Records where she recorded the 1966 hit “Your Good Thing (Is About to End).”
John’s career was a short, but storied one. In 1973, she left secular music to manage gospel acts and, eventually, become a minister. She impacted not only music but also her community, founding Joy Community Outreach, which helps to feed and clothe the homeless in Los Angeles.
In honor of the legendary Mable John, here are five irresistible tracks.
1. “Left Over Love”
John’s steady and assertive voice on the 1967 track “Left Over Love” adds a punch to the song’s lyrics. The singer tells a story in her biting resolution—take your secondhand affections and shove ’em.
2. “Take Me”
John shines in the Motown single “Take Me.” Effortless, her vocals offer a bright dreaminess against the deep, velvety harmonies from The Temptations.
3. “I’m Yours, You’re Mine”
A repetitive, but effective song, “I’m Yours, You’re Mine” gleams from its sweet simplicity. The trademark swinging beat and buzzing horns of early R&B make this tune a classic.
4. “Able Mable – Take 1”
My name is Mable/ And don’t you think I ain’t able/ I can take a complication/ Make it a simple situation, John sings. Bopping along to a relaxed beat and lively keys, the cool confidence in John’s voice is unmistakable in “Able Mable.”
5. “Running Out”
John’s voice is tender, yet tough – full of tenacity and grit. Whatever she’s singing about she makes you believe it, and in the tune “Running Out,” you better believe she’s leaving.
(Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)