In Memoriam: Mable John (1930 – 2022)

Mable John (November 3, 1930 – August 25, 2022) was an American blues vocalist and was the first female signed by Berry Gordy to Motown’s Tamla label.

John was born in Bastrop, Louisiana, on November 3, 1930, the eldest of at least nine siblings. At a very young age, she and her parents moved north into Arkansas, where her father got a job in a paper mill near Cullendale, where four of her brothers (including R&B singer Little Willie John) and two sisters were born.

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. While Motown was beginning to have success with acts like the Miracles and the Marvelettes (and later Martha & the Vandellas and the Supremes, both of whom had sung background vocals for John) that appealed to teenagers and young adults, it was making no 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.

After leaving Motown, John spent several years as a Raelette, backing many Ray Charles hits. In 1966 she attempted a solo career again, signing with Stax Records. Her first single with the label was “Your Good Thing (Is About to End).” 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.

John died in Los Angeles on August 25, 2022, at the age of 91.