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Gregory A. Summers
In the early 1950s, an up and coming featherweight boxer who idolized Joe Louis was walking back to the locker room inside Detroit’s Woodward Avenue Gym locker room after a rigorous workout.
The Korean War veteran said a poster advertising a battle of the bands between Duke Ellington and Stan Kenton grabbed his attention.
It was hanging above the poster of an upcoming boxing match. The two posters stopped him in his tracks and changed his life.
“I stared at the posters,” said Berry Gordy Jr., in his biography, “To Be Loved: The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown.”
“There it was again, boxing versus music,” Gordy said. “I then noticed the fighters were about 23 and looked 50; the bandleaders were about 50 and looked 23. That day, I took off my gloves for good.”
The inspiration and vision Gordy, a former chaplain’s assistant, found that day changed American music forever, breaking down the racial barriers of the recording industry.
Boxing’s loss was music’s gain
Within 10 years, Gordy would transform a group of aspiring, poor inner-city children into a stable of talented musicians who made the magic of Motown.
Now that sound Gordy helped create is coming to the Bundy Auditorium at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster at 7:30 p.m. tonight.
“Memories of Motown” is a high-energy choreographed stage show that features the hit songs of some of the most iconic names in the history of popular American music.
With songs that pay tribute to The Commodores, Diana Ross & the Supremes, The Four Tops, Gladys Knights & the Pips, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder and The Temptations, the sixth performance in the 2010-11 See Lancaster SC Performing Arts Series is a stroll down memory lane with smooth harmony and smoother moves.
“Memories of Motown” is brought to life by the TFC Dance band and the Fabulous Crooners Doo-Wop Singers, based in Tidewater, Va., area.
“It’s great fun to perform,” said John Hodges, TFC bandleader. “The whole thing is these are songs that just won’t die. When we were playing proms last year, Motown is still what the kids because they heard it at home and can relate to it. It’s what their parents and grandparents grew up on. We’re looking forward to coming to Lancaster today for a good time.”
Berry defined the sound he helped create and market with six words; “rats, roaches, struggle, talent, guts and love.”
From 1961 to 1971, the Motown sound produced an amazing string of 110 top 10 hits.
The Motown production process has been described as factory-like in the label’s early days.
Gordy operated the “Hitsville U.S.A.” studio in a 2-story house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. A small basement photography studio was remodeled into a recording studio, with Gordy living on the top floor of the home.
The studio was open for 22 hours a day, with artists coming into record at odd hours during tour breaks.
Given that kind of setting and time constraint, Gordy always opted for the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) principle.
According to Brian Chin and David Nathan, co-writers of “Reflections of the Supremes,” the Motown sound was crafted with a pop appeal by using tambourines to accent back beats, a melodic bass guitar line, prominent guitar licks, smooth chords and a gospel music singing style. Orchestral strings, horns and carefully crafted background vocals were used but complex arrangements and elaborate vocals were avoided.
Many of Motown’s best-known songs, including all the Supremes’ early hits, were co-written by the trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland (Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland).
Other Motown songwriters and producers included Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong, Nicolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Frank Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, and Gordy himself.
The Funk Brothers
Nothing was overlooked and taken for granted. Gordy held quality control meetings each week to assure that artists were turning out the best material possible.
Gordy also gathered the best session musicians from Detroit’s thriving jazz and blues scene to back his artists in the studio.
Known collectively as “The Funk Brothers,” its members included Richard Allen, Jack Ashford, Bob Babbitt, Benny Benjamin, Eddie Brown, Johnny Griffith, Joe Hunter, James Jamerson, Uriel Jones, Joe Messina, Earl Van Dyke, Robert White and Eddie Willis.
The role of the Funk Brothers at Motown was mostly anonymous until the 2002 award-winning documentary, “Standing in the Shadows of Motown.”
In total, from 1959 to 1972, the Funk Brothers played on more No. 1 hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined.
Grammy-winning songwriter Ben Harper said in the documentary the Motown sound introduced America to soul music.
“Soul music is powerful,” he said. “It makes you want to believe and gives you hope in the way you feel. That’s what was coming out of the sound they were making.”
Hodges said the music Gordy was responsible for creating is become a part of America’s heritage.
“I really think it was a bigger part of the integration process,” Hodges said. “Music is a universal language and has done for racial relations that politics ever could.
“With a good sound, you forget all about race and color,” he said. “It crosses all the lines and will always be here to do that as long as we keep it alive.”
Want to go?
WHAT: Memories of Motown, featuring the TFC Band and Fab Fabulous Crooners Doo-Wop Singers
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight
WHERE: Bundy Auditorium, inside the Bradley Arts and Sciences Building at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $50.
INFORMATION: (803) 286-1145 or firstname.lastname@example.org