The Del Fi's began singing in high school in Detroit; the members were Gloria Williamson (lead), Rosalyn Ashford, Annette Beard, and another unknown member. When a single on Cadette Records "No More" b/w "The Magic of Love" stiffed, the mysterious member moved from the Motor City. Needing a fourth member, they recruited Martha Rose Reeves from the Fascinations, a Detroit female quartet that only recorded for Chicago record labels (for years, many thought the group was from Chi-town). A couple of years after Reeves left, the Fascinations hooked up with Curtis Mayfield for a handful of acclaimed singles that didn't sell.
The Del Fi's initially worked exclusively for Joe Hunter and Fred Brown who owned Brohun Publishing and a production company. Their backing vocals were so essential they usually received label credit. The single "Won't You Let Me Know" b/w "My Love Came Tumbling Down" (1960) is credited as J. J. Barnes & the Del Fi's, and a release the same year on the same Kable label, "Silver and Gold" b/w "Together Just We Two," is credited as Leon Peterson & the Del Fi's. Kable reissued the J. J. Barnes' recording the same year, this time credited as J. J. Barnes & the Del-Phis (a different spelling). In 1961, they leased the same 45 to Rich Records; despite the attention, it never did much.
That same year, Billy Davis snatched them for his Checkmate label for one release as the Del-Phis: "I'll Let You Know" written by Joe Hunter and Martha Reeves and "It Takes Two," a Hunter/Gloria Williamson composition. Checkmate folded and Davis moved to Chicago to work for Chess Records. The girls found day jobs but still did backup sessions. They sang on two singles with Mike Hanks: "The Hawk" as Mike Hanks and the Del Fi's and "I Think About You," parts one and two, as Mike Hanks and the Del-Phis; they did a solo release "Worthless Love" b/w "I Know It's You," written by Reeves and Williamson before splitting. Reeves continued to work day jobs while singing in clubs on weekends as Martha Lavalle.
Good timing got Martha Reeves a job as Secretary of Motown's Artist and Repertoire division. The position led to an unscheduled session when Mary Wells didn't show up and producer William "Mickey" Stevenson needed a singer at the microphone to appease representatives from the musicians union. "I'll Have to Let You Go," the song in question, was labeled a demo and shelved. A chance for the Del Fi's came later in 1962 when Stevenson needed background singers for a Marvin Gaye session; the Andantes were moonlighting in Chicago, so Martha called the Del Fi's down to 2648 West Grand Blvd. to do the job. The song "Stubborn Kinda Fella" became Gaye's first smash and introduced the Vandellas' chirpy sound to the world.
They recorded a single on Motown's subsidiary Melody Records. Gloria Williamson led both sides of the record "You'll Never Cherish a Love So True" b/w "There He Is at My Door," released October 1962; It was credited to the Vells since Chess Records owned the name Del Fi's. Listening to Williamson, it's easy to see where Reeves' style came from, the two voices are practically identical, with Reeves' soprano a bit reedier, and Williamson's a tad more soulful. Reeves always played second fiddle when Williamson was around, making you wonder if Reeves is singing Reeves or emulating Williamson whom she admired so.
Mickey Stevenson put the Del Fi's voices on "I'll Have to Let Him Go"; the "demo" became Martha & the Vandellas' debut single. When it came out, Williamson had already left, leaving a potent trio of Martha Reeves, Rosalyn Ashford, and Annette Beard. It did nothing, but the next single "Come and Get These Memories" started an amazing run of hits for the trio. Reeves later reunited with J. J. Barnes when he co-wrote "Show Me the Way" with Sylvia Moy and Richard Morris; it was the B-Side of "Honey Chile" but spun many imitators, most notably Pattie & the Lovelites' "My Conscious."