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Photo Courtesy  Helen L. Fox Gospel Music Center

Bertha Barbee-McNeal, of the Motown group the Velvelettes, has died. She was 82.

The Motown Museum broke the news Sunday on its official Twitter account.

"It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Motown alumnus Ms. Bertha Barbee-McNeal, a founding member of the Motown group The Velvelettes," it wrote.

The Motown Museum added, "A true pioneer of American girl groups, Bertha helped promote the Motown sound and style worldwide."

According to reporting from The Detroit News, Barbee-McNeal passed away Thursday in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she had been in hospice care for several weeks after her colon cancer advanced.

Founded by Western Michigan University students Bertha Barbee-McNeal and Mildred Gill Arbor in 1961, the Velvelettes were best known for their 1964 hit “Needle in a Haystack."

Overseen by Motown super-producer Norman Whitfield, the single reached No. 45 on the Billboard 100 chart and charted internationally in Canada and Australia.

Another hit, “(He Was) Really Saying Something,” was covered by the British group Bananarama.

“She was an angel. I’ve lost my dearest friend,” Cal Gill-Street, lead singer for the Velvelettes, said in a statement. “She was the group historian, and the glue that kept us together.”

Gill-Street, the younger sister of Velvelettes' co-founder Mildred Gill, was recruited to the group as a 14-year-old when she was in ninth grade along with her friend Betty Kelley, a junior in high school, and Barbee-McNeal's cousin Norma Barbee, a freshman at Flint Junior College, to round out the group's original lineup.

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