LOS ANGELES — Gladys Horton, lead singer of Motown girl group the Marvelettes whose hits included "Please Mr. Postman" -- the Detroit label's first No. 1 -- has died at the age of 66, her son said Thursday.
Motown founder Berry Gordy led tributes to Horton, who died Wednesday in a nursing home north of Los Angeles where she had been recovering from a stroke.
"I am so saddened to hear of the passing of another Motown great, one of our first, Gladys Horton, who with the Marvelettes, recorded our first No. 1 hit, 'Please Mr. Postman,' and many others," he said.
"Gladys was a very, very special lady, and I loved the way she sang with her raspy, soulful voice," he added in a statement.
Her son Vaughn Thornton said Horton died late Wednesday in Sherman Oaks, California, "where she had been recuperating from a stroke that she suffered some time ago."
"My mother died peacefully," he said in a statement released by the Detroit-based Motown Alumni Association, adding: "She fought as long as she could."
The singer was only 15 when the Marvelettes released "Please Mr. Postman" in 1961. The song reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in December that year.
As well as being the first Motown No. 1, it notably featured a young Marvyn Gaye on drums, long before he too topped the charts with songs like "I Heard it Through the Grapevine."
The Marvelettes, a forerunner to other successful Motown girl groups including The Supremes and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, also had hits with "Locking Up my Heart," "Playboy" and "Beechwood 4-5789."
Horton was born in Detroit in 1944 and raised by foster parents in the western suburb of Inkster.
While at high school there she developed a strong interest in singing, and formed a group with fellow students known initially as the "The Casinyets," short for "can't sing yet."
The lead singer was initially another girl, Georgia Dobbins, who co-wrote "Please Mr. Postman" -- but then had to leave the group because her father banned her from singing in nightclubs -- leaving Horton as the frontwoman.
After changing their name to the Marvelettes and scoring several hits, Horton was replaced as lead singer in 1965 by Wanda Young, and left the group two years later.
She is survived by her her sons Vaughn and Sammy.
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