The Henry Ford had been a really enjoyable but very long day, and the seven of us wanted to visit Detroit before we headed farther north, so we settled down early in anticipation of another day of activity. (And we were told that the correct pronunciation is Dee-troit, not De-troit’.)
Our scheduled tour for the morning was the Motown Museum. We had been warned of “good” and “bad” areas of Detroit, and this was obviously not one of the best areas, but not one of the worst either. A row of houses on the opposite side of the street had been beautifully updated and refurbished, and there were established businesses on the street.
The Motown Museum is the original white frame house Berry Gordy, Jr. purchased after a chance 1958 meeting with William “Smokey” Robinson resulted in the first Motown money-maker under the Tamla label. The original recording studio in the garage of the house is still there. Actually, it’s the way out after the tour of the premises is completed. And what did they use as their “echo chamber,” part of the unique Motown sound? One of the rooms in the house, with the ceiling torn out, exposing the opened-up attic. Clever! The building itself remains pretty much as it was in the ’60s, and the same piano that accompanied and was used by the future celebrities is still there. For tourist purposes and accessibility there’s a ramp up to the front porch, an area in the entry to purchase tickets, and, in addition to the original stairs, in what must have been a closet, an elevator to the basement, where the tour begins. We had a wonderful guide who made the past come alive for us, and who would from time to time burst into song as part of his vivid descriptions.
A great many careers blossomed here and continued here and elsewhere for a long, long time. Little Stevie Wonder completed his first composition and signed for the Tamla label at age 11. (He dropped the “Little” in 1964.) Michael Jackson started young too, as part of the Jackson Five. His original fedora and rhinestone glove are on display in a special case in a hallway. (I’ve also been told that the originals are at The Smithsonian, so that’s up for speculation.) Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Night and the Pips, the Temptations—on and on went top names that got their start in that ordinary little white house.
In 1966 twenty-two Motown singles reached the Top 20 of the Pops charts. In the ’70s the company moved to Los Angeles in order to be closer to the heart of the entertainment world. In 1988 Gordy sold Motown to MCA, which eventually became part of the Universal Music Group, thus ending Motown’s era as an independent recording company.
Then, for us, it was on to the General Motors Renaissance Center (GMRENCEN) in downtown Detroit.