Mable John (born November 3, 1930) is an American blues vocalist and was the first female signed by Berry Gordy to Motown's Tamla label.
John was born in Bastrop, Louisiana. At a very young age, she and her parents moved to north across the state-line into Arkansas where her father got a job in a paper mill near the community of Cullendale. There four brothers (including R&B singer Little Willie John) and two sisters were born. In 1941, after her father was able to secure a better job, the family moved to Detroit, where two additional brothers were born. The family lived in a new housing development at Six Mile and Dequindre Road. She attended Cleveland Intermediate School, and then Pershing High School, which is at Seven Mile and Ryan Road.
After graduating from Pershing High School, she took a job as an insurance representative at Friendship Mutual Insurance Agency, a company run by Berry Gordy's mother, Bertha. Later, she left the company and spent two years at Lewis Business College. She subsequently ran into Mrs. Gordy again, who told Mable that her son Berry was writing songs and was looking for people to record them. Gordy began coaching her and would accompany John on piano at local engagements. This continued until 1959, when John performed at the Flame Show bar on John R Street at the last show that Billie Holiday did in Detroit, just weeks before Holiday's death.
The same year, John began recording for Gordy. First she was signed to United Artists, but nothing was released there. Eventually, she became one of the first artists signed to Tamla, Gordy's own label. In 1960, she released her first Tamla single, "Who Wouldn't Love a Man Like That?" a romantic blues number, to no success. John followed with "No Love" in June of that year and then with "Actions Speak Louder than Words" by year's end.
(Here's the B Side to Actions Speak Louder Than Words and by far the best of all her Motown releases.)
While Motown was beginning to have success with acts like The Miracles and The Marvelettes (and later The Supremes, who had sung background vocals for John) that appealed to teenagers and young adults, it failed to make an impact in the established blues market. As a result, Gordy soon thinned out his roster of early blues artists. While John continued to be used as a background singer, Gordy dissolved her contract in 1962.
The song peaked at #6 on the R&B chart, and even managed to cross over onto pop radio, peaking at #95 there. She released six more singles for the label, none of which captured her first single's success. After leaving Stax Records in 1968, John rejoined The Raelettes for several years. She left secular music in 1973, and began managing Christian gospel acts, occasionally returning to the studio as a singer. She became the pastor and founder of Joy in Jesus Ministries in Los Angeles, California in 1986. John earned her doctorate in divinity from the Crenshaw Christian Centre in 1993.
In 1994, the Rhythm & Blues Foundation inducted Mable John into their Hall of Fame. It was a just honour for the underrated blues singer, who made excellent records but never had the luck or the timing to achieve the prominence she deserved. She has been given many awards for her service to music and music education including the AMC Support Music Award in 2004.
She appeared in John Sayles' 2007 movie Honeydripper. John was one of the singers featured in the documentary film, “20 Feet From Stardom” about the lives of, mostly female, background singers. Her solo singing career and subsequent session work as a singer qualified her for the movie. The movie went on to win an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. (Info mainly Wikipedia)