Annette Beard-Helton and Rosalind Ashford-Holmes believe they were brought together in 1957 solely for the purpose of harmonizing together and becoming sisters in song. With Annette singing alto and Rosalind, first soprano, these two beautiful songstresses have captivated the hearts of music lovers for decades. Having recorded some of the worlds favorite songs, the Vandellas unique soulful harmonies are unmistakable and remain etched in the memories of millions. The appeal of their recordings and personal appearances are universal and continue to delight audiences of all ages.
Rosalind Ashford was born to John and Mary Ashford on September 2, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents separated when she was very young. She recalls fond memories of weekend bus excursions to the east side of town with her younger brother John and her older sister Geraldine, to visit with their father and collect a small weekly allowance. Rosalind cherished these visits and maintained a positive relationship with her nurturing father, despite her parent’s separation. Petite, quiet and shy, Rosalind enjoyed keeping to herself as a youngster. Her desire for solidarity however, didn’t prevent her from enjoying childhood activities, as she literally burned the wooden wheels off her roller skates each weekend roller skating with her peers. Inherent of a love for being in the water, she enjoyed swimming and the feeling of the cool water as it waved against her young, bronzed skin.
As Rosalind matured, she developed a passion for music and dancing. She earned a great deal of satisfaction singing in her glee club and mixed choir in high school. Still shy, but with more confidence and determination as a young lady, she ventured out on weekends to the Graystone Ballroom to succumb to the melodic sounds of the popular music of the 50s and danced the night away. She dreamed of donning the crisp uniform of an airline stewardess and embarking on an exciting career, flying through the sky discovering places and sights unknown. She had never given a second thought of becoming an entertainer, however, her mother and sister would be instrumental in leading her to an audition that would change her life forever.
The daughter of Roger and Ann Beard, Annette Beard was born on July 4, 1943 in Detroit, Michigan. Very small and slender in stature, she was often referred to as “skinny” during her childhood. A focused and meticulous child, she spent hours engrossed in her coloring books, admiring the brilliant shades and taking care to stay in the defined lines. Sidewalk games, music and dancing were also favorite activities in her young life. To ease the burden and stale routine of her daily household chores, Annette would listen to her favorite music on the radio and dance away while completing the tedious tasks of washing dishes and cleaning.
The Beard family thrived on its close knit relationship and strong family ties. Summer weekends and holidays often found Annette and her younger sisters, Barbara and Deborah, with their parents together at Belle Isle near the Detroit River, celebrating with picnics, games and swimming. Though somewhat shy, but still outgoing, Annette connected herself with others and enjoyed the friendships with her peers. Junior high school fostered a competitive streak as she began excelling in track and other sporting events. Running, jumping and dancing provided a welcome release for her surplus of adolescent energy.
With the evolution into young womanhood, Annette found great satisfaction singing in her church choir. Taking sewing classes, roller skating and writhing short stories about her young life experiences also consumed her time. She excelled in English and was proud of her talents as a novice seamstress as she modeled her creations at her high school fashion shows. Her singing remained strictly limited to the church choir until that fateful day she accompanied a girl friend on a short bus trip to the local YWCA. Her intention was merely to keep her friend company and offer support to her while she auditioned for a position in a girl group. Annette had no idea of the turn of events immediately ahead and that she would be asked to sing one note that would change the course of her entire life.
In 1957, Edward Larkins also known as “Pops” held an audition at a local YWCA in Detroit. In search of forming a new girl group to compliment his already established male group, he had placed ads in the newspaper soliciting potential members. Rosalind finally agreed to attend the audition at the persistence of her mother and sister. The audition yielded favorable results for her as Mr. Larkins was impressed with her vocal talent. Annette, sitting quietly while her friend auditioned, attempted to remain inconspicuous when Mr. Larkins urged her to come over to the piano and sing a selected note. Explaining that she was not there to audition, but only to accompany her friend, she attempted to decline his request. His encouragement and urging, lead Annette to comply and she sang the note for him. The look on his face was evidence enough of the satisfaction with what he heard. Through this audition, he had found the sound and the group he was searching for, while Annette and Rosalind, along with three other girls, found themselves in a girl group relationship that would lead to life long friendships and profound changes in the young and innocent lives they were accustomed to.
This new found group known as the Del-Phi’s, was eventually reduced to four members, Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford, Gloria Williamson, and Martha Reeves. They enjoyed local recognition performing at the YMCA, YWCA, high school functions, teas, lawn parties and private events. Miss Maxine Powell, model and actress, who would eventually become instrumental at Motown, grooming the artists for professional stardom, featured the Del-Phi’s at her own Detroit dance hall, Ferris Center. Martha, who was employed at Motown Records at the time, invited the group to the studio to perform background vocal work for the dynamic and soulful Marvin Gaye. This positive experience would not only yield marvelous songs, but begin laying the foundation for their own successful recording career. These impressive earthy background vocals can be heard on some of Marvin’s early hits such as Hitchhike, Pride and Joy and Stubborn Kind of Fellow and remain favorites today.
As fate would have it, another change occurred in the group’s lineup. Gloria left the group, leaving Martha to assume the lead singing role. With high school graduations behind them, Annette from Southeastern and Rosalind from Wilbur Wright, it was time for serious consideration of their options and what the future held for them. Founder and President of Motown Records, Berry Gordy, Jr. requested a name change for the group. With the group renamed the Vandellas, and the girl group fever in pandemic proportions across America, Martha, Annette and Rosalind set their sights for the ultimate dream of securing a hit record and achieving the stardom and recognition they believed they were worthy of.
In 1963 that dream became a reality for the Vandellas. Motown was gaining recognition as a leader in the music industry and their hit making machine was producing one hit song after the other for the various artists on the label. Through a wondrous combination of talented musicians, songwriters, and producers, the vision of Berry Gordy, Jr. and the passion of three young ladies, the stream of hits began to flow. The songs were magical and captivating. The timing was perfect and the sound, look and energy of the Vandellas created the ultimate recipe for incredible entertainment with polished class a brand new style.
The Vandellas became one of the most significant and prolific girl groups of all time. Their hopeful internal drive, persistence and patience paid off as they experienced the sweet taste of success with hits like Come and Get These Memories, Wild One, ( Love is Like A ) Heat Wave, Live Wire, Dancing in the Street, Nowhere to Run, Jimmy Mack, Quicksand, and I’m Ready for Love. Soon following was extensive touring with live performances in top venues around the world, television appearances on Shindig, Hullabaloo, American Bandstand, and the Ed Sullivan show, to name just a few. Little did the Vandellas know they would one day become legendary recording artists and a treasured element of our great American culture.
Today, Rosalind and Annette, The Original Vandellas, continue to tour throughout America and abroad thrilling their fans. Their harmonies are as fresh and exciting as they were in 1963. Branching out with their theater debut in the 2006 musical, Father Bingo and exploring new musical horizons such as gospel and blues, have kept them fresh and excited about what lies ahead for them. They enjoy their families and feel blessed to have maintained close ties and preserved their individual family traditions over the years. Annette has two children, Derek and Michelle and one granddaughter, Candice Annette. Rosalind has one son, Damon, two granddaughters Alana and Kaimen and one grandson, Damon.
The Original Vandellas have stood the test of time. They have graciously given the world a sound of joy for decades, touched countless spirits and impacted the lives of individuals of all cultures. They have sustained themselves well through the turbulence of the chaotic sixties, the unpredictable bipolarity of the music industry, and the bittersweet realities of life. Through it all, Rosalind and Annette have remained genuine, kind hearted, loving, and an exemplary singing duo to their peers and the multitude of fans they meet. Their music is featured on albums, CDs, in films and motion pictures, on radio and television, and written about and praised in a multitude of publications. Rare and previously unreleased material continues to be unearthed and enjoyed by millions into the 21st century. Inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Vocal Group Hall of Fame, and recipients of the American Music Award and the Rhythm and Blues Pioneer Award to mention only a few of the honors received, are symbolic of the caliber of success these beautiful and talented ladies have achieved. What would the world have been like without the sweet, sweet sound of the Original Vandellas? Fortunately we will never have to know!
Biography Written By: Dann A. Simmons - Ashland, OH
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