Sunday, January 23, 2011

Hitsville, USA

Last weekend I visited the Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan. Home to Barry Gordy, Jr., Smokey Robinson, Steveland Hardaway (aka Stevie Wonder), The Four Tops, The Funk Brothers and of course, my ex-boyfriend Marvin Gaye, this place is oozing with good vibes, creativity and American values.

What was most astonishing to me is the fact that Motown Records, established in 1959, was the voice of a nation in racial and cultural chaos. But Motown records was a constant and never closed its doors. It was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, even in the midst the 1967 race riot.

Smokey Robinson said:

"Into the '60s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it. I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands."

Some other cool facts I learned are:
• Barry Gordy, Jr. decided to forgo artists' faces on their first album covers, so radio stations would not be able to discriminate on the basis of race.
• Artist development was a huge part of Motown's operations. The acts on the Motown label were meticulously groomed, dressed and choreographed for live performances, and they were taught how to talk, eat, walk and carry themselves in public.
• The Funk Brothers are really responsible for the Motown sound. They were the house band and created nearly every song performed by the names we know best. (There is a great documentary on these guys called "Standing in the Shadows of Motown." Highly recommended.)
• There was a vending machine outside studio A, and the man who came to refill it knew to keep the Milky Way bar in the same slot for years. It was Stevie's favorite candy bar and he only knew it as four nobs from the right.
• Barry Gordy, Jr. sold Motown records in 1988 for 61 million bones. Not bad but I would have held on to it longer.

And since it wouldn't be totally out of place to share a Marvin video, here is a goodie:

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