Friday, September 04, 2020

The Andantes, Motown's Secret Weapon

(L-R) Hicks, Barrow, and Demps in 1962

You will be forgiven if you've never heard of Jacqueline Hicks, Marlene Barrow-Tate, and Louvain Demps, known professionally as The Andantes. Almost nobody outside of Motown Records has heard of them either but as sure as you're reading this article you most certainly have heard them sing. They were the anonymous vocal trio who sang backup on what is reportedly 20,000 Motown songs. They were the go-to girls for the groundbreaking record company from 1961 until 1972 when Berry Gordy moved most of his business to Los Angeles.

Until the move Gordy and the producers at Motown considered The Andantes' work so important that if one of them wasn't immediately available for a recording session it was often postponed. Smokey Robinson considered them an indispensable asset to the label.

In 1961 Hicks and Barrow, both teenagers, were part of a trio singing in churches and they were just getting their foot in the door at the Snake Pit (The nickname for Motown's recording studio) when Demps joined them as a replacement for a departing member. From there the three young ladies were off to the races.

The Andantes would have loved their own shot at fame and fortune but it is said that the company considered them so vital to the studio's success that they were held back. Hicks told, "We did not mind not having our name on someone else's record" and Barrow-Tate agreed, but Demps, the most ambitious of the three, always said she wanted more.

The group did get one shot at making their own record in 1964, "(Like A) Nightmare," but it wasn't promoted at all and the song went nowhere. (It's also not up to the usual Motown standards.)

However, the women have nothing but fond memories of their time at Motown. While they weren't stars, and therefore didn't get paid nearly as well as the label's huge moneymakers, they will tell you they were treated as equals by the other musicians and staff. The Four Tops were so appreciative of the contributions The Andantes made to their hits they generously anted up bonus money for them.

The trio are the other voices you hear on "My Guy" by Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye's "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," and Stevie Wonder's "For Once In My Life" and "Uptight." Would these songs have had the same impact without The Andantes?

In addition to The Four Tops The Andantes sang backup on many of the records by Motown's featured vocal groups to smooth out a song's rough edges. Among them were "Standing In The Shadows Of Love," Reach Out, I'll Be There," and "Baby, I Need Your Lovin'" for The Four Tops, "Love Child," by Diana Ross and The Supremes, "Jimmy Mack" by Martha and The Vandellas," Don't Mess With Bill" for The Marvelettes, and many, many more.

The Andantes also did occasional sessions for singers outside of Detroit. Hicks and Barrow, along with a substitute, Pat Lewis, who was filling in for Demps, are the female voices heard on Jackie Wilson's classic "Higher and Higher."

After Gordy moved his whole operation to Los Angeles The Andantes found themselves out of work and, with their singing careers virtually over, they were forced to find jobs in the real world with varying degrees of satisfaction.

The trio reunited briefly to record music under their own name in the 90s, adding Lewis as a fourth member. This was for a new label, Motor City Records, that quickly failed. These sessions would be the last time they sang together.

In 2013, Hicks, Barrow-Tate, and Demps visited a new exhibit at the Motown Museum in Detroit where they were held in the same high regard as the label's more famous female vocal acts. They've also received additional, long overdue recognition. Now, on company reissues their name appears on the songs they participated on and they also receive well-earned residuals for their past hard work.

Motown's famous house band, The Funk Brothers, deservedly won tons of credit for the success of the unique Motown sound but it's fair to say that The Andantes were just as important.

Sadly, Marlene Barrow-Tate passed away on February 23, 2015 at the age of 73.

Most of the information for this article was obtained from the following online sources: a November 28, 2018 article from, an April 4, 2013 feature from, and Wikipedia.

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