Mable John Dies: First Female Solo Artist Signed By Motown Records Founder Was 91

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Mable John, who recorded for Motown and Stax and later worked with Ray Charles, died Aug. 25 at her home in Los Angeles. Her nephew, Kevin John, confirmed the death, but did not give a cause. She was 91.

“We loved her and she was a kind person,” Kevin John said of his aunt, the older sister of R&B star Little Willie John.

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John had a rich career in music. She was the first solo female artist signed to Motown (then Tamla Records) by Berry Gordy Jr. and recorded the songs “Who Wouldn’t Love A Man Like That,” “Actions Speak Louder Than Words,” “No Love,” “Looking for a Man,” and “Take Me,” the latter with background harmonies by The Temptations.

John left Motown in the mid-1960s to join Memphis label Stax Records. There she teamed with the songwriting team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter for her 1966 hit “Your Good Thing (Is About to End),” which reached No. 6 on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart and No. 95 on the Billboard Hot 100. The song was later covered by Lou Rawls, Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, and others.

After Stax, John became the musical director and a singer in Ray Charles’ Raelettes backing band. There she collaborated on dozens of songs during her decade-long stay.

Following her stint with Charles, John left the music business and became a minister, founding Los Angeles’ Joy Community Outreach, which assists with feeding and clothing the homeless.

She made her onscreen debut as a veteran blues singer in John Sayles’ 2007 film Honeydripper, and was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary 20 Feet From Stardom.

John was born on Nov. 3, 1930 in Bastrop, Louisiana. The oldest of nine children, she moved to Detroit in the early 1940s and took a job with the Friendship Mutual Insurance Company, founded by Bertha Gordy, the mother of a young music producer, Berry Gordy Jr..

“He became my vocal coach, my manager and, within a couple of years, my record producer,” John recalled to author Susan Whithall, according to Motown Classic’s website.

John made her professional musical debut at Detroit’s Flame Show Bar, where she opened for Billie Holiday in 1959. A year before that, she had signed with Gordy’s Tamla Records, the label that became Motown.

Information on survivors and memorial plans was not immediately available.

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