It was recently reported that singer Katherine Anderson (Schaffner), co-founder of the legendary Motown act The Marvelettes, has died. She was 79. Anderson’s daughter, Keisha Schaffner, posted the news on Facebook, beginning with the touching opening “Some called her Kat – some called her Sis , Gamma- Momma K but my sister and I called her MOM.”
Born in the university town of Ann Arbor, but raised in the Detroit suburb of Inkster, Anderson was singing early in her life. By 1961, as an early high schooler at Inkster High School, she teamed with fellow glee club members Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman, and Juanita Cowart, as well as Georgia Dobbins (replaced early by Wanda Young).
Originally calling themselves The Casinyets (representing the joke “can’t sing yet”), the group eventually auditioned for Motown as The Marvels after a talent contest. Motown requested that the group return with an original song. They brought the Dobbins composition, “Please Mr. Postman,” and history began.
The quintet was signed by Motown and the changed their name from the Marvels to The Marvelettes. “Please Mr. Postman” became their breakout hit, going all the way to #1, and beginningnearly a decade as one of the premiere female vocal groups, with such hits as “Don’t Mess With Bill,” “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” and “Too Many Fish In The Sea.”
Anderson was principally a background singer during the Marvelettes’ great run. But the group had a steady rotation of members and lead singer throughout the 60s, before finally splitting up in 1970. When Gladys Horton wanted to bring the group back together in the 1970s, Anderson chose to move on, becoming involved in the Detroit community helping teenagers at risk, while also raising her own family. Anderson returned to the fold to be honored at the Motown 50th anniversary and the group’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
In the end, she was a singer who played an early, major role in the development of the Motown sound and the emergence of Detroit as the center of the music world. And her work will be remembered for years to come.