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the velvelettes

The Velvelettes

The Velvelettes were an all girl vocal ensemble, who were signed to Motown Records during the 1960's.

The group comprised of:

Bertha Barbee-McNeal (b. 12th June 1940, Flint, Michigan, U.S.A. d. 16th December 2022, U.S.A.)

Mildred 'Millie' Gill-Arbor

Carolyn 'Cal' Gill-Arbor (a.k.a Carolyn Gill-Street)

Norma Barbee-Fairhurst


Betty Kelly

The Velvelettes were originally founded in 1961, by Bertha Barbee McNeal and Mildred Gill Arbor.

In 1957, they recorded for the Stepp imprint, under the group name of the Barbee's, releasing 'The Wind' b/w 'Que Pasa? (What's Happening?)'.

The Velvelettes the velvelettes in 1962

The women were students at the Western Michigan University in Detroit.

Mildred enlisted the vocal services of her younger sister Carolyn (who was only 14 years old at the time), who was in 9th grade, and her friend Betty Kelly, a junior in high school.

Bertha recruited her cousin Norma Barbee, who was attending Flint Junior College, whilst Carolyn was chosen as the group's lead singer.

A classmate at Western Michigan University, Robert Bullock, was Berry Gordy's nephew, and he encouraged the group to audition for Motown Records.

The group signed to Motown in late 1962 and began recording in early 1963.

There He GoesHe Was Really Saying Something

there he goes - 1963 / he was really saying something - 1964

Initial recordings included 'There He Goes' b/w 'That's The Reason Why', a song produced by William 'Mickey' Stevenson, which was released as a single via the IPG label (Independent Producers Group), and later covered by the Royalettes.

A young Stevie Wonder played harmonica on the song.

By 1964, producer Norman Whitfield, recorded the song 'Needle In A Haystack' b/w 'Should I Tell Them' for the group, on Motown's VIP Records imprint.

'Needle In A Haystack' peaked at number 45 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid 1964.

The follow-up single, 'He Was Really Sayin' Somethin' b/w 'Throw A Farewell Kiss', (Norman Whitfield on production again) was released, and later became a hit for the U.K. girl group Bananarama.

In June 1964, the group recorded 'Dancing In The Street', however, Betty Kelly left the group to join Martha and the Vandellas, with the latter group eventually recording the song.

Lonely, Lonely Girl Am IA Bird In The Hand

lonely, lonely girl am I - 1965 / a bird in the hand (is worth two in the bush) - 1965

Further VIP singles included 'Lonely, Lonely Girl Am I' (in 1965), 'A Bird In The Hand (Is Worth Two In The Bush)' (in 1965) and 'These Things Will Keep Me Loving You' b/w 'Since You've Been Loving Me' (in 1966).

'These Things Will Keep Me Loving You' also saw the light of day for the Soul Records imprint in 1966.

The Velvelettes continued performing, with various members leaving and rejoining for various reasons.

By 1967, Millie, Norma and Bertha had decided to devote all of their time to raising their families.

Carolyn recruited two new members for concert performances.

These included former Martha and the Vandellas vocalist, Sandra Tilley (who was introduced by Abdul Fakir of The Four Tops), and Annette Rogers-McMillan.

An album was planned, and then shelved.

The Velvelettes continued to record new material until September 1967.

These Things Will Keep MePull My Heartstrings

these things will keep me loving you - 1966 / pull my heartstrings - 1989

They recorded a Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson song 'Bring Back The Sunshine', which was later retitled 'Dark Side Of The World', and a final Velvelettes single release, 'These Things Will Keep Me Loving You', which reached the 1966 R&B charts.

Carolyn dated the lead singer of the Monitors, Richard Street, whilst Sandra Tilley joined Martha and the Vandellas, replacing Rosalind Ashford.

Gill then married Richard Street in 1969, and the Velvelettes eventually disbanded.

The group reunited briefly in 1990, and the Gill sisters and Barbee cousins then went on to re-record their original hits and some new songs for the album 'One Door Closes' for Motorcity Records.

In 2006, the Velvelettes contributed to the double CD 'Masters of Funk, Soul and Blues Present a Soulful Tale of Two Cities'.

The Velvelettes continue to tour to the present.

In 2010, Norma Barbee-Fairhurst and her cousin, Bertha Barbee-McNeal reside in Flint.

Mildred Gill-Arbor and her sister, Carolyn Gill-Street live in Kalamazoo.

Carolyn is currently a school teacher in her hometown.

Mildred is a Registered Nurse, and a college instructor.

Bertha Barbee McNeal

Bertha held a Doctorate in Education and teached in the Flint Public School System.

She died in December 2022.

Norma is Director of Sales for a major hotel chain.

The Velvelettes

The Velvelettes

Real Player


The Velvelettes (VIP Records - not completed 1966)

One Door Closes (Motorcity Records 1990)

The Velvelettes meet The Royalettes (Marginal Records 1995)

Best of the Velvelettes (Hot Productions 1996)

The Very Best of the Velvelettes (Motown Records 1999)

The Velvelettes: The Best Of (Motown Records 2001)

Motown Anthology (Universal International 2004)

The Very Best Of The Velvelettes (Motor City Music Records 2006)

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