Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Visiting the Motown Museum


I grew up listening to "oldies" and have often said that if I could only listen to music that's already been made for the rest of my life, I would be just fine! (Sure, there is amazing music created everyday, but I love, love, love music from the 50s, 60s, and 70s!)

Since we were flying into Detroit last week for our visit to Michigan, we took the opportunity to check out the Motown Museum. Despite loving the music, I really didn't know anything about the history of Motown, so the tour was enlightening!

From Wikipedia:
"Hitsville U.S.A." is the nickname given to Motown's first headquarters. A former photographers' studio located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan, it was purchased by Motown founder Berry Gordy in 1959 and converted into both the record label's administrative building and recording studio, which was open 22 hours a day (closing from 8 to 10 AM for maintenance). Following mainstream success in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gordy moved the label to Los Angeles and established the Hitsville West studio there, as a part of his main focus on not only music production, but also television and film production.


I learned SO much. First, did you know that Motown wasn't Berry Gordy's first record label? His first label was called Tamla. Here is an amazing fun fact: he wasn't sure what to name his label, so he looked at the Billboard charts and saw that Debbie Reynolds' song "Tammy" (from my FAVORITE movie Tammy and the Bachelor) was #1 that week. He submitted his label as Tammy Records but it was rejected for copyright reasons. He changed the last 2 letters to "la" and Tamla was born.

When our tour guide told that story, my jaw dropped in shock because I love Tammy and the Bachelor and Debbie Reynolds!!


Another fun fact - to start the label, Berry borrowed $800 from his family co-op savings account. Every member of the family deposited $10 a month into a savings account and anyone could borrow from it at any time, but they had to be unanimously approved by the entire family for the loan. What an amazing idea!! I love that.

The tour starts with a short video featuring interviews with notables such as Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, and Maxine Powell who was the "charm school" headmistress. She taught every Motown artist how to behave like ladies and gentlemen both on and off stage. We learned that the average age of Motown artists was 19 while the average age of the employees was 23. Our tour guide said that many aspiring acts would show up to Hitsville at the age of 15 or 16 and want a deal but Berry would send them back to finish high school before signing them. 

Unfortunately, you're not allowed to take photos in the museum. I was heartbroken by that restriction a few times like when we saw the hat and glove that Michael Jackson wore during the Motown 25th Anniversary concert when he debuted the Moonwalk! It was pretty amazing to be that close to Michael Jackson history.

Here's the video from the anniversary concert, just for reference (and FUN!):

I also wished I could take photos when we entered Berry Gordy's apartment in Hitsville and it was set up with his original furniture. I have googled and googled trying to find official photos of the apartment, but I can't find anything! It was pure 60s goodness.

Then, you head downstairs into the lobby of Hitsville and it is ALSO completely original. There's even a couch in the lobby on which the 4 Tops sat when they found out they had a #1 song! AND Martha Reeves served as receptionist before she became a star and they had her desk set up. It was like traveling through time back to the 60s and I loved it.

Oh how I wish I could have shopped this space for my house and/or my booth! I would have snagged that starburst clock, the fan, and the typewriter for SURE.

They lead you from the lobby toward Studio A, but first you pass by the control room where there are worn spots in the floor from producers stomping their feet while working on new songs. Incredible!

Then, just down a few steps into what was formerly a garage and you have... Studio A.

It gave me goosebumps to stand in the recording studio and think about the tons of superstars that had stood right where I was standing. I walked up steps that Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and so many more walked up! Our tour guide told us all about the history of Studio A, then led us in a sing-a-long of "My Girl." It was pretty exciting to pretend to be a superstar for a minute. :) 

If you are ever in Detroit, I highly recommend visiting the Motown Museum!

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  1. FUNNNN! Michael Jackson's GLOVE!?!? I die.

  2. I grew up about 90 miles from Detroit and was a teen in the 60's so I have sang and danced to many Motwon sounds through the years. But, I have never been to Hitsville USA. Shame on me. In Dearborn, Mi is Greenfield Village and Museum where they did have a Motown tribute of stage costumes worns by the artists in their career. It is awesome too...if it's still there.

    I still believe Motown is the best music ever made. Of course, it could be my teen memories that are connected to it that help too.

  3. that is awesome! we are going to detroit for a wedding next spring, and we'll definately stop there!

  4. Awesome! I love Motown, I will have to check out the museum of I am ever in Detroit!

    What Lola Wants

  5. Lots of history there with motown! Love the co-op savings account, very creative!


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