The singer passed away at her L.A. home Thursday, this according to her nephew, Kevin John … who spoke to The Detroit News. He said, “We loved her and she was a kind person.” A cause of death wasn’t offered.
In addition to being the first solo female artist signed to Motown (then Tamla), Mable John also recorded hit songs for Stax Records and she was a singer in Ray Charles’ Raelettes backing band.
Berry Gordy signed MJ to his new label — then known as Tamla Records — in 1958. She was the first woman under his brand to get her own record deal without a group attached. Other acts that were signed early included Smokey Robinson (and the Miracles), Eddie Holland and Mary Wells.
Gordy actually served as a coach/mentor for John — who was opening for Billie Holiday in Detroit during the ’50s. She and BG had a solid partnership, which flourished into a somewhat short-lived working relationship under Motown. She left the label in mid-’60s.
John was born on Nov. 3, 1930 in Bastrop, Louisiana. The oldest of nine children, she and her family lived in the South before moving to Detroit in the early 1940s. As a teenager, John took a job with the Friendship Mutual Insurance Company, founded by Bertha Gordy, the mother of then-aspiring music producer Berry Gordy.
John eventually 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.