As a kid growing up in the late 1950s, Sandra Bears used to sit at the top of her basement steps, and watch her older brother’s singing group practice. She and her girlfriends decided they wanted to do the same thing, so they started their own group.

By the time they got to Roosevelt High School, in Washington, D.C., they were recording songs together. One day, they held an audition for a new member, and that’s when they met 16-year-old Martha Harvin. She hit her first note in harmony with the girls… and the rest is history.

3 out of 4 of the members of the girl group “The Jewels” (Sandra Bears, Grace Ruffin, and Martha Harvin pose for a Dimension Records publicity portrait in 1964 in New York, New York. Photo by James Kriegsmann/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Image.

The girls started performing out across the country, and they eventually were invited to a one week show for up and coming artists at the Apollo Theater. Every night they got a standing ovation, but one special night changed the course of their lives.

Martha High performing with James Brown.

Sandra and Martha came to StoryCorps in 2022, to look back on that time, their life choices, and their lasting friendship.

Top Photo: Martha High in Amsterdam, and Sandra Bears in Washington D.C., at their virtual StoryCorps interview on May 14, 2022, for StoryCorps.

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Originally aired December 16th, 2022, on NPR’s Morning Edition.