A journey to Detroit and the rediscovery of a surprising city, different, totally out of the conventional mould.
A journey into the auto story – I think about Henry Ford, his Model T, the birth and development of one among the most powerful – and complex at the same time – industrial centers in the USA.
A journey into the multiculturalism of his districts – which progressively, one after the other, shine again with a new light – and into the most authentic traditions of the Michigan State – I mean art, local productions, food, a very easy and open air lifestyle.
A journey for connoisseurs cannot help but having an only and unique leitmotif: the Motown Sound!
A “black” genre – we talk about pure (and wonderful) black music –born in the legendary Motown Records in Detroit.
Right here Berry Gordy – thanks to a loan of $800 given by his father – founded this record label in 1959. He gave origin to the Motown Sound and launched a series of musicians and singers then become famous all over the world.
Today it’s possible to visit the original heart of the Motown buildings (and enjoy again all the magic) –the mythical Studio A included, the place where the greatest successes of the ‘60s were recorded.
Like “Do you love me” by The Contours, a very famous piece of 1962, then re-proposed successfully also in the “Dirty Dancing” movie theme song.
“Motown was about music for all people – white and black, blues and green, cops and the robbers.
I was reluctant to have our music alienate anyone”
On January 12th 1959 Berry Gordy founded his first record label –the Tamia Records –then become the Motown Record Corporation the following year. An homage to Detroit whose nickname “Motor Town” was shortened into “Motown”. Then Hitsville U.S.A. was added to indicate the seat of the first record studio – with offices –at 2648 West, Grand Boulevard in the area between Losalle Gardens and New Center.
In 1960 the first single by The Miracles – Shop Around –climbed the top of the hits arriving to the second place among the TOP 100. One year later, The Marvelettes reached the first place with “Please, Mr. Postman”.
Already towards the middle ‘60s the music record – thanks to Gordy’s perseverance and the steady presence of valid aides like “Mickey” Stevenson, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Norman Whitfield – had gained a place of all respects compared to the height of the music industry, arriving to have a fundamental role also about the racial integration.
The Motown Records – first and only one record label of an Afro-American property, born in a difficult period like that one of the racial fights (who then gave life to the Civil Rights Movement) is – was progressively clearing the “black music”, making it an appreciated music genre for all.
At the beginning of the 1970s the Motown billed 2million$ thanks to the Supremes (initially together with Diana Ross), the Four Tops, the Jackson 5 together with a very young Michael Jackson, besides the already famous Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes and The Miracles.
All of them worked and recorded in Hitsville U.S.A. in the Studio A, spending days with Berry Gordy’s family who lived in a small apartment right upstairs the offices.
From Berry’s music vision and the artistic skill of his co-workers, a new way to do music was born, so unique and recognizable that then it went down in history as Motown Sound.
A sound characterized by sophisticated melodies and more voices in the background, use of trumpets and strings, choice of artists halfway between gospel and pop, and support of skilled bass players and drummers.
In the ‘70s Berry Gordy moved the production to Los Angeles – where the record company has still its seat today – and founded Hitsville West to widen the music production above all in the television and movie field, following the trend of that time. The rest is history.
From the evolution in other music genres and the great artists who inspired to the Motown Sound, as far as arriving nowadays.
“Into the ‘60s I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music,
we were making history”
The Motown Records really made the history of music.
And it’s natural that today the original studios of the Tamia/Motown Records in Detroit have been turned into a museum, visited by hundreds of thousands of fans of the Motown Sound every year.
The Motown Museum was founded by Esther Gordy Edwards in 1985.
Lovers and curious people arrive from all over the world to enter the Studio A, where their favorite artists and groups have recorded and also to visit the upper restored apartment where Berry Gordy lived with his own family in the first years.
The tour develops together with a funny guide that through music and refrains, short videos never seen before and short surprising jingles tells the story of the record label showing a wide range of artifacts, photographs and other relics bounded to the Motown era and its artists.
The highlight of the experience is without any doubt the chance to enter and sing “My Girl” by The Temptations together with the guide in the mythical Studio A. A great emotion also for who – like me – only heard mention about those incredible times – almost magic – and yet he/she seems to know those melodies since ever.
The Motown Museum is located at 2648 W, Grand Blvd, Detroit.
From May until September it is opened Monday-Saturday 10am-6pm. From September until April Monday-Friday 10am-6pm.
The (only) guided tours leave every hour (half hour in the days of great crowd) and last about an hour and a half. If you are going to visit the museum in Summer – above all in the weekends – then the tip is to book the admittance and the time on the official website. Click here.
$15 admittance ticket. $10 over 62 and under 17. Reduction for groups over 20 people are scheduled.
Inside the museum is forbidden to take photographs. Only at the end of the tour in the Studio A it is allowed (surprisingly) to take some photos.