Motown legend Martha Reeves visits Project Upward Bound students at OU

Motown legend Martha Reeves visits Project Upward Bound students at OU
Martha Reeves speaking to students
Motown singer Martha Reeves spoke to Project Upward Bound students about her life and career in show business.

This past weekend, students in Oakland University’s Project Upward Bound were in the presence of Motown greatness. Martha Reeves, leader of the famed 1960s singing group “Martha and the Vandellas,” visited OU’s campus to share stories from her life and career, stressing the importance of setting goals and cultivating confidence.     


The students, ninth- through twelfth-graders from Pontiac and Oak Park schools, kicked off the event with a video collage featuring media interviews from Reeves’ storied life in show business.  After that, four students, in performance attire, pantomimed her group’s iconic hit "Dancing in the Street," as Reeves clapped along.


Briauna Travis, Monet Fletcher, Ruby Houston and Makayla King, who played the role of Reeves, spent weeks practicing the act during their Performing Arts class, which is part of Project Upward Bound’s summer-long academic enrichment programming. The Project’s Performing Arts Coordinator Gwen-Foxx-Dokes, a professional singer who is acquainted with Motown artists, invited Reeves to come speak to the students.


Students performing

Students Briauna Travis, (left) Monet Fletcher, (center, back) and Makayla King (center, front) and Ruby Houston (right) performed a Motown-themed show, featuring Reeves' classic hit "Dancing in the Street."

Martha Reeves with birthday cupcake

Reeves, with her birthday cupcake, is flanked by student Makayla King and Project Upward Bound Director Geraldine Graham.

In her talk, Reeves inspired the students and also commended their parents, who were in attendance, for helping their children succeed. According to Project Upward Bound Director Geraldine Graham, Reeves spoke to the students about “the need to set goals and to announce their names with confidence when introducing themselves . . . she also applauded parents for keeping their children in an educational environment over the summer.”


As with many Motown artists, Reeves spoke about her strong religious faith and formative years singing in church as a child. She regaled the audience with stories of her interactions with other Motown artists and concluded her talk by leading the group in a sing-a-long, wrapping up with, "This is My Country."  


In honor of her birthday – the singer turned 76 on July 18 – the students presented Reeves with cards and gourmet cupcake topped with a candle. In the midst of the celebration, Reeves snuck away for a brief tour of Oakland’s campus, noting that OU was the first college campus she had ever visited.


As a final surprise, Reeves introduced musician Dennis Bowles, whose cousin was in OU Project Upward Bound's first Summer Academy in 1966. Bowles is the son of Motown musician Thomas “Beans” Bowles, who played saxophone on several “Martha and the Vandellas” hits.


“It was a tremendous honor to have Ms. Reeves and Mr. Bowles visit our campus,” Graham said. “This was an experience the students won’t soon forget.”


The students will be performing their full Motown class production at 3 pm. on Thursday, July 27, in 201 Dodge Hall. All are welcome.


For more on Oakland’s Project Upward Bound, visit