Betty Kelly: A famous international singer from Attalla

by Danny 'The Vagabond' Crownoverby Danny 'The Vagabond' Crownover

Betty Kelly, who later became a well-known American singer, was born Sept. 16, 1944 in Attalla, .Her family moved to Detroit, Mich,. when she was a child. Like many children growing up in the city, Kelly found herself aspiring to a career in music.

In 1961, she joined Motown singing group The Velvelettes. Kelly was not part of the group when the band had a 1965 hit, “Needle in a Haystack.”

A year before, Kelly had been recruited by Motown president Berry Gordy to become a member of the group led by Martha Reeves known as Martha and the Vandellas. She replaced departed Vandellas member Annette Beard.

Betty Kelly joined what became the most famed lineup of the Vandellas, coming in quickly to record the single “Live Wire”, which was similar to earlier Vandellas singles such as “(Love Is Like A) Heat Wave” and “Quicksand.”

The group found bigger success with what became signature songs including “Dancing in the Street,” “Nowhere to Run” and “Jimmy Mack.”

The lineup of Reeves, Ashford and Kelly helped the group becoming international stars, gaining popularity from performances from The Ed Sullivan Show, Shindig! and American Bandstand.

Kelly was often mistaken for being an original member of the group, de-spite the fact that Beard sang on the group’s earlier singles, often lip-synched by Kelly when the group performed on TV.

Kelly’s vocals contrasted from Beard’s. During the group’s later years, Kelly often had special lead singing spots during the group’s performances.

By 1967, Kelly was out of the group. After the Vandellas, little is known about Betty’s life, though it’s said she rejoined the Velvelettes occasionally during reunion performances.

Kelly is said to have fully retired from music after she became partially deaf in one ear.

In 1995, Betty Kelly was inducted to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a Vandella alongside Martha and Lois Reeves, Annette Beard, Rosalind Ashford, and Sandra Tilley.

In recent years, Betty Kelly has helped to organize annual music festivals in California (where she now resides), most notably the late-summer event known as Sunset Junction.

 
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