Marcella Detroit has a voice that is instantly recognizable. The singer songwriter known as one half of Shakespears Sister, took a  stratospheric leap into the region of iconic when the song ‘Stay’ became an eight-week number one in 1992. With two albums, Sacred Heart (1989) and Hormonally Yours (1992), the duo of Detroit and Siobhan Fahey (ex-Bananarama) parted company. That is not the end of the story of Marcella Detroit, in fact the beginning of her story is one which will surprise many, and indeed proves that long before Shakespears Sister, she had already reached those highs of artistic creativity some only dream of.

Born Marcella Levy in fifties Detroit, Michigan. The Motown Soul and Blues sound of Detroit understandably found its way into the DNA of Marcella, and from an early age aspired to become like the greats she idolized. “As soon as the Motown thing started happening, as soon as I was cognitively aware of what was going on around me as far as music was concerned – music and inspiration from a very young age.” Marcella explains. “It goes back to when I was four or five years of age. When I joined school I was always in choirs, doing duos, trios, quartets, whatever I could do to be involved with music. My father dabbled in music, he played the ukulele, and he took me to see the great violinist Isaac Stern, and that was my first instrument, the violin, and it went on from there. I was completely enamoured with the Beatles, but growing up in Detroit it was all about Motown. But there was always a radio on in the house growing up. My dad loved the Beatles, and Motown which was a big influence on me as a singer. Even though Aretha (Franklin) was from Detroit she was signed to Atlantic – Aretha was my favourite singer and still is.”

Being influenced by Aretha Franklin comes as no surprise. The power Marcella can conjure to project a song owes a lot to her background, as do those blues and soul sounds she soaked up. In fact, her first appearance on a record happened almost fifty years ago on Bob Seger’s classic Back In ‘72. “I had been in a recording studio before that, but now you are doing stuff with Bob Seger, and it is going to be heard, and you are going to be part of music history. I would say that was the first real viable thing that I did that was taken seriously, and respected as me, as a professional singer. Even though I was making my way up the ranks of the Detroit music scene in a band called Julie, and we opened for David Bowie.”

All this work in the infancy of Marcella Detroit becoming an artist, had that profound effect on shaping her style. “People always say to me; “Where did you find your high voice?” It was when I first started working with bands, and they were so loud that I realized the only way I could be heard is to stretch and try to go up a little bit- the high end always seems to make its way through. I discovered that working in bars in Detroit and I cultivated that. My voice on Back In ‘72 can really be heard on a song called ‘Rosalie’ (Covered later by Thin Lizzy).”

Of course, her associations and her move into stardom goes deeper than her work with Seger. In fact, it is fair to say everyone had already heard Marcella Detroit, or Marcy Levey, before Shakespears Sister. “When I made up my mind, I was eighteen, and playing my guitar in a park in Detroit – how much I loved music and how much comfort and joy it gave me. I looked at the sky and  knew this is what I was going to do with the rest of my life, and then I started to make it happen. But you have to put in the work, which I did.”

One figure she has worked with extensively is Eric Clapton. The album Slowhand (1977), features Marcella both as a co-writer, backing vocalist and she also duets on ‘The Core’, further she also appears on the albums E.C Was Here and Backless. “Working with Eric, that all came about from working with Bob”, Marcella continues explaining how every step she took led to another adventure. “Tulsa was this big, budding music scene, I mean everybody wanted to be in Tulsa. Anybody that came out of Tulsa was lauded, and Leon Russell was one of them. I was completely enamoured with him and I wanted to work with him, so I knew when my friends asked me to move to Tulsa it was a great idea. When we got there, we were the big fish in a little pond, but everyone used to come in and see us – from J.J Cale to other great artists, and Leon he would come in and jam with us. But Carl Radle discovered us, Eric’s bass player from Derek And The Dominoes. So, when Eric called him looking for a band to get back out on the road with after Layla, because after that album came out he took a sabbatical. Carl had said to come and check us out, so Eric came to Tulsa and he sat in with us.”

Although her band went with Eric to record his comeback album 461 Ocean Boulevard, Marcella remained behind to tour with Leon Russell, until she got the call that changed everything. “After that ended I got a call from my friends to join them (in Jamaica) recording There’s One In Every Crowd. I went down there and after a few days, and after I sang a few songs, Eric asked me; “Do you want to be in the band?” (Marcella replied) “Are you kidding? By the way Eric I saw you in the Grande club in Detroit, and there you were with Cream, and I wore out the grooves on Disraeli Gears, so do I want to be in your band? Eh, yeah!” So, we ended up working with Eric, touring the world, writing and recording and I was taken more seriously as a songwriter. I have been writing since I was twelve but never at this level.”

It is only after that when Shakespears Sister become part of the equation. In 1982, Marcella released her debut solo album Marcella to little fanfare, afterwards she set her sights on new creative pastures. “I was in Clapton’s band from ‘74 to ‘79, and then I moved to LA and I started doing session work for Bette Midler, Aretha Franklin, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, I really got into it – Chaka Khan, I also wrote a song for her. But I met Siobhan in ‘87, when she was wanting to leave Bananarama and do something really different, something deeper, and looking for something to do that was more artistically fulfilling for her. She was very pregnant at the time, and she had an idea for the name of the band Shakespears Sister.”

Like everything that has happened in her career, Bob Seger leading to Leon Russell and then to Clapton, those connections led to the work which put her on the musical map. “My friend Richard Feldman, who wrote some stuff for Clapton, Richard introduced me to Dave (Stewart) and Siobhan, they had moved in across the street from him. And that is how it started. A complete fluke of being in the right place at the right time. He said, “Your voices would really compliment each other.” I just thought; “Sure!” I had done an album of my own and it did okay, and then I got this opportunity. Initially, I didn’t think Siobhan and I wanted to be in a band together. It just evolved into that by the time we did the second album when I was asked to be a fully-fledged member.”

The first release the duo wrote together landed in late 1988 with the double ‘A’ side ‘Break My Heart (You Really)/Heroine’ which made little chart impact. However, the follow-up released in 1989 ‘You’re History’ broke the UK top ten as did the debut album Sacred Heart (London Records). And that signalled the arrival of Shakespears Sister. Further singles from Sacred Heart,‘Run Silent’ and ‘Dirty Mind’ kept the momentum going into the nineties. Until late 1991, the first single from their second album titled ‘Goodbye Cruel World’ scraped into the top fifty. Then came the second album in February 1992, the top three hit Hormonally Yours,which was preceded a month before by the single ‘Stay’. That was the game changing moment for the duo, and a turning point in the band’s fortunes. “The album was a concept album. We saw this film called Cat Women Of The Moon, and we wanted to buy the rights to it and super impose ourselves into it. Which proved to be too costly and the label would not go for it. But we still used it as inspiration. ‘Stay’ (video) was the character I was portraying, who fell in love. We were these Cat Women of the moon, a very powerful, very strong cult of women. These earthlings came to visit and I fell in love with one of them, and when it got to a point where he said he had to go back to earth.”

Everything around Marcella combined to create that hit. The belief Dave Stewart, and Siobhan had in the possibilities for Shakespears Sister, and the dynamic of the two vocalists, created something timeless. “Dave Stewart helped us write the song. He and Siobhan came over to my house one morning – it was a Sunday morning; I remember it well. There was a knock on my door, my husband came and woke me up, he said; “David and Siobhan are here, he’s got an idea for a song for you!” So I get up, coffee in hand, go see them and they are in my studio. Dave said, “Hey Marcy, you know how you sing those beautiful ballads at our parties?” They would have these amazing star-studded parties, where Timothy Leary was there, Roy Orbison and Tom Petty, you name it. So Dave said, “I have this idea for a song, it’s a ballad and it’s all about what is happening with you, and this earthling you are falling in love with”. So he has this whole lyric written up, but when he gets to the chorus he doesn’t have anything, and I just started singing; “Stay with me, stay with me”, and we were all like “Wow! This is great”. So we said we would finish it, and Siobhan joined in and she wrote the second verse. But it went through many different forms.”

Talking to Marcella now, you can hear in her voice when it comes to ‘Stay’, the success of that single then and now, is still an overwhelming and a surreal moment for her. “That was the first version of it, it was changed many times. Dave and I tried to rewrite it and make it like a Blue Nile song, but it ended up being what it ultimately was from the beginning. Chris Thomas (producer) heard the initial demo Siobhan and I made in my little studio, he was working with Dave doing Spiritual Cowboys. He heard it, jumped up, slammed his hand on the table, and he just went; “Number one smash!” We had him produce it, and we did part of it in Dave Stewart’s Chapel Studio in LA. Ultimately we did a lot of it in different studios, and Chris loved our vocal and our background vocals. We ended up recording a lot of the album and the basic tracks in Friar Park (George Harrison’s studio). You can hear my vocal drift out at the end, by the time you get to the last chorus it goes slightly out. But it still worked. We were all bewildered, we couldn’t understand how this was such a hit. but it just started climbing up the charts from the minute it was released.” 

Marcella then took me further into the experience of having such a monumental hit.  “It is a dream of every aspiring artist that they have something that leaves a legacy, leaves your mark. I never thought it would be in this situation, but it was something I was always hoping for. It is kind of ego-driven, and if you’re not careful it can bite you, and it can hurt you.”

That single that made the band, also broke the band, and things took a turn for the worst. “It did not help the life of Shakespears Sister” Marcella points out, as she brings it all back. “Siobhan had said it many times, and everybody knows, she didn’t really like the song (‘Stay’), and she didn’t think it represented Shakespears Sister, and that’s a shame.” A little over a year after all the adulation, Marcella was ousted from the band, in a very public display as Hormonally Yours won the Best Contemporary Collection of Songs at the 1993 Ivor Novello Awards. Not one to hang around, Marcella continued as a solo artist releasing albums, and off the bat released the soulful Jewel (1994), which featured the Elton John collaboration ‘Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing’. 

Flash forward then to 2019, twenty-six years after the duo parted ways, Siobhan Fahey and Marcella reconvened. They even wrote and recorded new music, released in the Ride Again Ep and further released the collection Singles Party. The duo also toured across the UK with the Shakespears Sister Ride Again tour. “Initially it was “Oh let’s do a retro tour”, but we met while I was over in England doing a residency at this club, and my husband said; “Let’s see if you can write, let’s see if you still have that magic!” And we did. We went back to LA, went out to the desert, ‘All The Queen’s Horses’, the first single, was the first song we wrote. We had the brilliant producer Nick Launay (Iggy Pop, Nick Cave), he is Siobhan’s friend and he loved it. We got Nick Cave’s drummer playing on it, it was just an incredible experience. Siobhan is really driven, when she wants something to happen, she really makes it happen. My hat is off to her, that woman is a force of nature.” 

Regardless of any future music from Shakespears Sister, the fact remains that perhaps the 2019 reunion, was a more respectable finale for the duo, and one that was more deserving. But of course, nothing is ever ruled out. 

Today Marcella continues to release new albums. Her most recent Gold arrived in 2021. Alongside this, and more recently her character is shown in the Parkinson’s disease charity Kindred Spirit and the Leo Sayer fronted single ‘Think Loud’, a song which is a Blues and Soul banger reminiscent of her beginnings. Kindred Spirit, is the brainchild of manager Ian F Grant, a person suffering from Parkinson’s disease. The Think Loud Speech Therapy campaign is aimed at sufferers whose speech is affected by the disease. For a vocalist such as Marcella, the importance of her voice is brought into perspective. “About two years ago I met Ian Grant through social media, and he asked me to be a part of Angels Of The Nation. It was a charity that donated to the relatives and friends of people of the NHS who gave their lives during the pandemic. It was the Robbie Williams’ song called ‘Angels’. So he asked me to do that, I did it and then I heard about Think Loud through a friend that Ian was doing a song – I didn’t have much information about it other than it was doing something to raise money for Parkinson’s. I really wanted to hear it, so suddenly I found out that Ian had written the lyrics, and I had no idea he was a songwriter, I knew he is a fantastic manager and has had a successful career in the music business. When I saw the lyrics I was so impressed, it is really, really good and he puts it so perfectly into words.”

With everything that Marcella talks about, opens up another part of who she is, and this experience is like going back to her roots, her Blues influences. “To me songs are poems really, they are poetry set to music. I thought he did that so well, and he had some really good friends Paul Mitchell and Josh Philips (Procol Harum) to create the track for it. Initially they invited me to be a part of it, and then Leo Sayer was involved with it, I thought; “If Leo is doing it, then I am definitely involved!” Because Leo and I go way back. I sang on his album when he was here in LA and did a couple of records. So, it was really great to reconnect with him on the song and he did a really great job. To me, it wasn’t in the right key, I like it to be in that really sweet place for my voice. I knew I could do with it; I knew I could add some adlibs and some backing vocals to it. But I am so glad they got Leo because he really brought it to life by putting his personality on it. He is just such a warm, kind-hearted person. It was just the perfect combination, so I am really proud to be involved.”

Aside from that, Marcella herself is, and always will be pushing forward with new music, constantly creating, and we are all the better for it. “I am working on some new stuff right now, so it is all good.”

This interview originally appeared in issue 10 of Blitzed. Order here: Issue 10