The Story Behind “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes and How It Broke the Color Barrier

In 1961, five 17-year-old girls from Inkster, Michigan, using the name The Marvels, auditioned for Motown Records’ Berry Gordy, Jr. and Smokey Robinson but were sent home with the request to come back with something original. Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart, and Wanda Young returned with a song about a mail carrier and a new name.

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The Marvels became The Marvelettes and notched Motown’s first No. 1 hit. The song stayed on the charts for six months. Cowart left the group in 1962, followed by Tillman and Horton. When Motown moved to Los Angeles in 1969, Young decided to stay in Detroit, essentially putting an end to the group. Let’s take a look at the story behind “Please Mr. Postman” by The Marvelettes.

(Wait) Oh yes, wait a minute Mister Postman (Wait)
Wait Mister Postman

Racial Lines

Motown Records erased racial lines and represented teenagers from all walks of life. The Marvelettes sang about dating, dancing, and a feverish interest in the opposite sex. Young and Horton shared lead vocal duties on the songs that broke down the color barrier and reached white America. Smokey Robinson told composer/writer Rikky Rooksby, “A great awakening for me was when I began receiving letters from white kids who lived in the Detroit suburbs, places like Grosse Pointe, where blacks couldn’t live at the time … kids who would say things like, ‘We love Motown. We have all your records. Our parents don’t know we have them. If they knew, they’d take them away.'”

(Please, Mister Postman, look and see) Oh yeah
(Is there a letter in your bag for me) Please, Please Mister Postman
(Why’s it been a very long time) Oh yeah
(Since I heard from this boyfriend of mine)


Inkster is a suburb of Detroit with direct ties to the automotive industry. It was developed specifically for black families of Ford Motor Co. workers. In an era of white-dominated suburbs, Inkster was almost entirely black. All of The Marvelettes lived in Inkster except for Horton. They performed “Maybe” by The Chantels in their school talent show. They came in fourth place, but the top five finishes earned an audition with Motown Records.

Anderson told author Susan Whitall in Women of Motown: “We were still in high school when “Please, Mr. Postman,” our first record, was out. It was written by a William Garrett, who lived here in Inkster. … They never thought suburbanites could do it. Unlike many of the Detroit artists, once we hit, we hit with our songs. Many of the artists who were there from Detroit, they had a bit of a problem with it. I don’t know if Berry had a problem with it, but it somewhat seemed that way. Because we were girls from the suburbs, not from the city, and we came in there with the song that was their first million-seller. I don’t recall that we had as much participation in our career, as I look back at it, through the years, as did many of the Detroit artists. That’s the mentality of big city vs. suburbia. I don’t think we were supported and necessarily promoted in the same manner that many of the other artists were.”

There must be some word today
From my boyfriend so far away
Please, Mister Postman, look and see
Is there a letter, a letter for me

Continued Anderson: “When we recorded “Please, Mr. Postman” we were young. In comparison with groups such as The Chantels and The Shirelles, the difference with The Marvelettes was that we were more upbeat. The sister groups, like The Chantels and The Shirelles, did more slow, ballad-type music. We did more fast-paced, upbeat music. The Marvelettes were soon sent out on the road, both with the early, more rustic versions of the Motown Revues and with Dick Clark’s Caravan of Stars bus tours. I loved going on the road. As with many artists who lived in the black community at that time, it was an avenue that allowed you to travel to other cities and states and gave you that ‘out.’ In doing so it also helped you to grow. Oftentimes, when you stay in your own community, you think differently. If you stay within the confines of your familiar surroundings, then you have a tendency to think as the surroundings dictate.”

I’ve been standin’ here waitin’ Mister Postman
So patiently, for just a card or just a letter
Sayin’ he’s returnin’ home to me

All Walks of Life

As The Marvelettes enjoyed success with more hits, they traveled far from the Greater Detroit area. “Show business allowed us to travel to any number of states, which meant we were able to make friends in those areas. It broadened our horizons,” Anderson said. “Show business allowed you to meet people from all walks of life. In the long-term, I’ve always been able to communicate with people, but it allowed me a broader span. I can deal with anybody on any level. In comparison with young people today, many of them don’t get out of their own area, so they don’t necessarily know how to deal with people from all walks of life.”

Please Mister Postman (Mister Postman, look and see) Oh yeah
(Is there a letter in your bag for me?) Please, Please Mister Postman
(Why’s it been a very long time) Oh yeah
(Since I heard from this boyfriend of mine)

The Beatles

When the British Invasion hit America, Motown was one of the few labels still having success on the charts. The Beatles added “Please Mr. Postman” to their live repertoire in 1962. Their second full-length album for Parlophone contained three Motown covers: “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” and “Please Mr. Postman.” They took nine takes to record The Marvelettes’ hit.

So many days you passed me by
You saw the tears standin’ in my eye
You wouldn’t stop to make me feel better
By leavin’ me a card or a letter

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Photo by James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

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