Wanda Young, founding member of the hit 1960s Motown group, The Marvelettes, has died at the age of 78. The news was confirmed on Saturday (Dec. 18) by former labelmate, Claudette Robinson of The Miracles. Robinson wrote on Instagram, “A very sad day for our @motown family and music fans all over the world. Wanda was a star on Earth and now she is a star in Heaven. Put on some #Marvelettes and turn it up.”
The official Motown Records Twitter account wrote, “We are so saddened by the news of Wanda Young of the Marvelettes passing. What an impact she has had on the world of Classic Motown and the lives of so many. Her legacy will continue to live on.”
Born Wanda LaFaye Rogers, just outside of Detroit in Inkster, MI, on August 9, 1943, Young joined The Marvelettes in 1961. The group was originallly compromised of Gladys Horton, Katherine Anderson, Georgeanna Tillman, Juanita Cowart, and Georgia Dobbins. Initially called the Casinyets—a contraction of “can’t sing yet”—they entered a talent contest where the winners would get to audition for Motown. Despite impressing the esteemed label, they were told to create original material.
At the time, Dobbins asked her friend, songwriter William Garrett, if he had anything and what he gifted them was “Please Mr. Postman.” Horton planned on dropping out to become a caretaker and their search for a replacement lead to them finding Young. Ultimately, Young replaced Dobbins before signing their first record deal.
Berry Gordy renamed the group The Marvelettes, which ended up being Motown Records‘ first successful act to follow the Miracles. The ladies were the record label’s first significantly successful female group after the release of their debut single, “Please Mr. Postman.” The record also was Motown’s first No. 1 hit, catapulting the label’s success as a musical powerhouse.
In the 2004 book, The Original Marvelettes: Motown’s Mystery Girl Group, Katherine Anderson reflected on the song’s impact. “We were all surprised when ‘Postman’ hit so big. The most surprised was Motown. Motown became even more known once we hit with ‘Please Mr. Postman.’ In my opinion, where Motown wanted to go. The Marvelettes came in and kicked the door open,” she expressed.
Young was married to Bobby Rogers of The Miracles for 12 years and left The Marvelettes in the late ’60s to focus on her growing family. The group eventually disbanded in 1969. Horton, Young and two new members reformed the group in 1990 for The Marvelettes…Now!. The original band members were inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1995 as well as the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004. Young also lead on some of Smokey Robinson’s most memorable songs including 1965’s “Don’t Mess With Bill” and 1966’s “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game.”
Young’s cause of death is currently unknown.
Listen to “Please Mr. Postman” below.