Motown Museum Article: Detroit Free Press 1987 May 17, 2007 16:51:59 GMT -5
Post by HitsvilleSoul on May 17, 2007 16:51:59 GMT -5
Motown Museum is a music mecca
February 26, 1987
BY MARK JOSAITIS
Free Press Special Writer
What did singers Pat Boone and Bobby Darin, comedian Tommy Chong and slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. have in common? All at one time were Motown recording artists. Chong, then a guitarist, recorded "Does Your Mama Know About Me" and "Melinda" with a group called Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. Motown produced some of King's commentaries and speeches. The Motown recordings of Boone and Darin are obscure and forgettable.
Such bits of trivia are part of a visit to Hitsville USA, the early Motown recording studio that is now home to the Motown Historical Museum. In honor of February's Black History Month, the museum, in a rare move, has opened its doors on weekends for walk-in tours.
As in the early 1960s, the structure that gave birth to the Motown sound is a two-story brick and stucco duplex, unremarkable except for a sign above the porch identifying it as Hitsville and a showcase in the front window.
Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. lived in an upstairs room in the back of the house, while downstairs, in an unpretentious room that served as a recording studio, he composed his ultimately successful dream to become a name in the music business.
A visit to the museum evokes memories of a time when Detroit was considered the mecca of the music world and fans traveled from as far as England to sit on Hitsville's steps. It's the place where three giddy teenaged girls who had the audacity to dub themselves Supremes vied with polished artists for the attention of the up-and-coming Gordy.
In these halls, Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, Mary Wells, the Miracles and the Temptations may have bantered after a recording session in which every available hand-clapper and do- wopper was enlisted to provide background. Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rare Earth, the Jackson 5, the Spinners and the Four Tops recorded at Hitsville, as did a blind youngster named Steveland Morris Hardaway, whose versatility and talent as a musician earned him the stage name Stevie Wonder.
Early Recordings at Hitsville were made on a simple, two- track tape system. Unlike modern 48-track digital recording systems, which isolate every part of a song on separate tracks, when a mistake was made back then, the entire song had to be re-recorded. "Berry made (the musicians) get up at 3 a.m. and come back till they got it perfect," said Esther Edwards, Gordy's older sister. She is director of the museum and a vice-president of Motown Records.
In addition to record awards, the museum is full of old album jackets, snapshots, publicity photos and even some old Temptations costumes. A copy of a loan agreement between Gordy and his family for $800 to start his business hangs on a wall. Nearby is a framed copy of Barrett Strong's single "Money," Motown's first big hit.
The museum's existence, Edwards said, owes more to her unwillingness to part with memorabilia than to any corporate plan to preserve the past. The collection also is maintained, she said, for visitors from out of town.
Motown fans from as far away as England, she said, "knock on the door and ask, 'Isn't this 2648 W. Grand Blvd.?', so we would let them in to look around. They treat it like it was holy ground." Edwards said record producers also drop in for a look around. "I think they're looking to see what the secret was," she said.
The Motown Historical Museum is at 2648 W. Grand Blvd., one block east of Rosa Parks Blvd.