Detroit, 1967, My Mom and How Saying No Saved Her Life

Singing was one of my mother Veunita’s greatest talents. She sang with such articulation and a Motown sound that proved she could stand up to some of the greatest.
I loved hearing her sing as a child, it was powerful yet soothing. For the life of me, I never understood why she, a young woman with nothing to lose, would turn down a promising offer to become the female add to an up-and-coming group.

She, as the co-lead singer of The Gabriel’s, stunned the crowds each time they performed. Mom and I often reminisced over those years.  I can see it so vividly, as if I was a member of the audience at the 1967 talent show. Of course, later that year, on the night of July 25th during the 12th St. Rebellion at the Algiers Motel, three teenage Black boys were murdered by police and nine other people, two White and seven Black, were beaten by the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police, and the Michigan Army National Guard. The same group mom had been asked to join a few months earlier.

In a recent conversation with my uncle Frederick Jordan who sang lead along with my mom, I asked a few questions for clarity.

“What year did my mother get asked to join the Dramatics, Uncle Freddie? 1966 or 67?”

“1966. We won the 1967 Northern High School Talent Show as The Gabriels over the Dramatics, whose name was first the Primes. . The Gabriels’ lead vocalists were your mom Veunita Williams and I. The background vocalist, were Beatrice Jordan, Jackie Davis, and Diana Holbrook.”

“The internet says the Dramatics were the Dynamics but you called them the Primes. Why?

“In the movie or social media maybe, but in school they were The Primes. They took that name after the Temptations changed theirs. It was the Temptations’ name first and The Supremes were the Primettes.”

“Is that a picture of the same talent show that you won in the 1967 Northern High School yearbook?

“Yes, that’s the picture. And we went on to win first place in numerous contests around the city at schools, churches and the 20 Grand Club.  Singing songs such as “Dear Lover” by Mary Wells, Veunita and I sang lead together. Veunita was known for singing “I’ll keep on Holding On” by the Marvelettes and me singing “Hey Love” by Little Stevie Wonder.  Veunita, Jackie and Diana were 17 years old and Beatrice was 12 and tall and I was 11 and short.”

“Why didn’t you keep singing?”

“The riot in 1967 ended our group”

I am sure it did, Those riots ended a lot for the entire city and killed its spirit for a while.

Northern High School was the stomping ground for plenty of talent, which helped students rise above the reality that their city was battling against racism. Students walked out to protest in 1966 and things still got worse. Despite what went on outside of Northern, the hallways were filled with doo-wops and shoo-by-doos on a daily basis. Talent shows continued and dancing was in their hearts and the streets. The 1967 rebellion changed that for many.

Mom’s group dissolved and she thought solely about raising her soon-to-be-born first child Renaldo. I am thankful that she didn’t join the Dramatics. If she had,  she could have very well been with them in the Algiers Motel the night the group’s lives changed forever. I only wish mom could have been here to see the movie Detroit despite it’s much-needed debate over telling the story from a narrow view as opposed to how it impacted the entire city.

 

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