Detroit: Welcome to 'Music City' USA
It’s called the “Motor City,” but Detroit could just as easily be known as the “Music City.”
As the birthplace of the Motown sound and where techno beats first originated, Detroit offers a diverse mix of world-renowned music events throughout the year. It has several celebrated music shrines, most notably the Motown Museum and the United Sound Systems Recording Studios.
Detroit is the hometown of Berry Gordy Jr., founder of Motown, who launched the careers of Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder and many more.
This true American dream story of Gordy’s journey from a featherweight boxer to the heavyweight music mogul is told in Motown: The Musical. The Broadway greatest hits musical premiered last week at the Fisher Theatre to rave reviews and continues through Nov. 16, 2014.
The stage performance shows how Motown “shattered barriers, shaped our lives and made us all move to the same beat.” On opening night, the musical had them “dancing in their seats” to songs including Martha and the Vandellas’ hit Dancing in the Streets.
The romp through Motown history is based on Gordy’s book To Be Loved and features more than 40 classic songs. These include My Girl, What’s Going On, I Heard It Through the Grapevine and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.
The talented cast recreated the excitement of performers named earlier as well as Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, Marvelettes and the distinctive instrumentation by the Funk Brothers.
Not without its dark moments, the play reflected the civil rights’ struggles of the era and the often-stormy love relationship between Gordy and Diana Ross. A standout was Leon Outlaw, Jr. who captured the moves, sounds – even the looks – of a young Michael Jackson with his Jackson 5 brothers.
After Detroit, the show is on a U.S. tour over the next year.
HITS JUST KEEP ON COMING
Just down the road from the theatre on West Grant Boulevard is “Hitsville U.S.A.”
That’s the name for Berry’s converted house where the Motown Sound was born in 1959. Tens of thousands of people pass through Hitsville, now the Motown Museum, each year.
Founded by Gordy’s late sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, in 1985, visitors stand and sing in Studio A where their favourite artists and groups recorded. It contains the original piano and drum set of Stevie Wonder while also preserved is the upper flat where the Gordy family lived.
Guided tours show visitors an extensive collection of Motown artifacts, photographs and memorabilia, including Michael Jackson’s hat and glove, gold records, and a hole in the ceiling that served as an echo chamber.
It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except holidays.
- A visit to United Sound Systems Recording Studios revealed a big connection to Motown. The studios are where many great artists made music including songwriter Gordy who recorded Marv Johnson’s Come to Me that was Tamla/Motown’s first release. It later became home to hits by Bob Seger, Isaac Hayes, Johnnie Taylor, the Dramatics, Gladys Knight & The Pips, George Clinton and the Rolling Stones with Aretha Franklin for “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”
- Bert's Market Place Jazz Club in the Eastern Market District is co-managed by Miller London, a former Motown executive, who brought his collection of gold records and photos to create music-themed booths in the restaurant and club. The place is jumping nightly with jazz, blues and Motown and there’s a 1,200-seat theatre.
- The Majestic Cafe is a place to eat, drink, bowl and hear some great music. The Woodward Avenue institution opened as a theatre in 1915 and is now one of the top concert venues in the city.
- For a night out, Baker’s Keyboard Lounge, circa 1933, is Detroit’s oldest jazz club in continuous operation. It has hosted some of the greatest names including Ella Fitzgerald, Nat ‘King” Cole, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, George Shearing and Sarah Vaughn.
NEED TO KNOW
To find out more about music festivals and events, and to plan a visit, contact the Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau: visitdetroit.com.