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Motown Museum May 7, 2018

Posted by flashbuzzer in Arts, History.
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I recently visited the Motown Museum in Detroit. The museum showcases the history of Motown.

Here are five nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. Berry Gordy Jr.’s father worked as a contractor, while his mother sold real estate. Gordy initially struggled to find a regular source of income; he worked on a Ford assembly line, received plaudits as a pugilist and even owned a jazz record store. Eventually he tried his hand at songwriting; when Smokey Robinson laughed at his meager remuneration of three dollars and nineteen cents, he was spurred to form his own company. He took out a loan of eight hundred dollars from his parents with the stipulation that he repay it within one year at six percent interest. He coined the term “Motown” for his new company in honor of his hometown.

2. Gordy spared no expense in developing his stable of talent, including:

  • purchasing an upright piano and labeling the keys to assist those who lacked formal musical training
  • hiring Maurice King to teach music theory and serve as a voice coach
  • hiring Cholly Atkins to teach choreography
  • hiring Maxine Powell to teach comportment.

3. The Miracles were one of the earliest Motown acts to achieve commercial success. Their lineup included Robinson and Claudette Rogers, who would later marry. Their hits included Bad Girl, which was their only release on the Motown Records label, and You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me. They also wrote the hit song My Girl for The Temptations. Last but not least, they broke a color barrier by performing on American Bandstand.

4. Gordy eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1972, as he wanted to use the silver screen to promote Motown. He co-produced the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross, Richard Pryor and James Earl Jones. He also directed Mahogany, starring Ross and Billy Dee Williams. He would later write the book for Motown the Musical.

5. Gordy purchased seven homes on one side of West Grand Avenue in Detroit (and one home on the other side of that street) and repurposed them for his company. Recording sessions occurred in the renowned Studio A. Vocals and instrumental tracks were mixed in a control room, while another room was designated for billing and collection. One room contained a vault of master tapes. This set of buildings was later designated as a historical landmark in 1987. Gordy’s sister, Esther, founded the museum itself in 1985.

The exhibits in the museum can only be viewed in the context of a guided tour. That being said, our tour guide was friendly and well-informed. She related several anecdotes and even led us in several renditions of Motown hits, including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.

I don’t have any quibbles with the museum at this time.

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum, and I would recommend it to tourists in Detroit (supporting the theory that I advanced in the final paragraph of this post).

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