Georgia Dobbins, a founding member of The Marvelettes and co-writer of Motown’s first No.1 single, “Please Mr. Postman,” has died at the age of 78. According to her daughter, Kimberly Ann Watts, Dobbins passed away from cardiac arrest last Friday, September 18.
Born Georgia Dobbins Davis in 1942, the Inkster, MI native discovered her love for singing at an early age. In high school, Dobbins formed a vocal group called The Marvels, which included her fellow glee club members Gladys Horton, Georgeanna Tillman, Katherine Anderson, and Juanita Cowart.
Thanks to the urging of a teacher, the talented group traveled to nearby Detroit to audition for Motown Records, which was still in its infancy. Intrigued, label founder Berry Gordy Jr. encouraged the girls to come back with an original song.
Dobbins’ friend, musician William Garrett, offered her a blues song that he had written. The teenager added lyrics to the instrumental track and reworked it for The Marvels. According to Watts, via Rolling Stone, “Dobbins wrote the rest of the song in three days, inspired by the pangs of waiting for a letter from her then-boyfriend, who was enlisted in the Navy.”
When the girls performed “Please Mr. Postman” for Gordy, he instantly knew it was a hit. Gordy signed the group to Motown in 1961, changing their name to The Marvelettes. He also enlisted songwriters Brian Holland, Robert Bateman, and Freddie Gorman to add finishing touches to the tune.
“Please Mr. Postman” was released as a single that August. By the end of the year, it had not only topped the R&B charts, but also the Billboard Hot 100. The song marked Motown’s very first No.1 single and would be covered by numerous artists, including The Beatles and later The Carpenters, who made the song a No.1 hit once again in 1975.
Sadly, Dobbins was forced to withdraw from The Marvelettes, and the music industry entirely, before the group even recorded “Please Mr. Postman.” Watts told Rolling Stone that Dobbins’ father “was completely unaware of his daughter’s budding career until she approached him about the Motown deal.” Concerned about his teenage daughter performing in clubs, he forced her to leave the group.
While Dobbins was able to help finish the track and even select her replacement, Wanda Young, she never returned to her musical roots.
In 2005, however, Dobbins had the opportunity to tell her side of the story, thanks to the play Now That I Can Dance, which tells the story of The Marvelettes. Playwright and founding artistic director of Detroit’s Mosaic Youth Theater, Rick Sperling, interviewed Dobbins for the play’s book. Now That I Can Dance proved to be a hit show for the theater, with several revivals over the past 15 years.
While The Marvelettes disbanded by 1970, they worked with such legendary songwriters as Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson and released several albums over the decade. They also continued to find success with singles like 1962’s “Playboy,” 1966’s “Don’t Mess with Bill,” and 1967’s “When You’re Young and in Love.” The group was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.