With Virgin Atlantic opening their first direct route from London to Detroit, Music-News.com jumped at the chance to add Motown to our Musical Destinations series.
The celebratory fight on board a brand new 787 Dreamliner was a hive of excitement and full of surprises. Richard Branson could be seen chatting to guests while Britain’s Got Talent runner up, Jamie Raven, regaled lucky passengers with his faultless magic. The main feature came when the cast of Broadway’s Motown The Musical (set to hit the West End in 2016) made a surprise appearance mid-flight, breaking into song to the delight of all. The hit cast shared a selection of Motown classics that had guests and Richard Branson dancing in the isles.
Check out some of our tweets from Music-News.com and Film-News.co.uk from on board along with the exclusive Motown The Musical cast video.
Detroit’s long time association with the motorcar is well documented. Henry Ford was the most successful of over 45 different car manufacturers that have had their headquarters in the burgeoning city. In fact Berry Gordy’s Motown Records took its name from that very link, a mash-up of motor and town. Little did he know that the company he registered in 1959 would soon rival Ford in importance, become synonymous to Detroit and be exported to every corner of the globe.
With the ‘Hitsvile U.S.A.’ sign proudly displayed for all to see, Berry Gordy had the world famous Studio A working 24 hours a day. In a similar fashion to the automotive standard this was a human assembly line, with raw talent one end and the finished artist the other. That was the difference between Motown and other labels of the time, Berry invested in his singers, with his Artist Development Department teaching them everything from how to sit, stand and speak to dressing and choreography.
Berry's main office and living quarters were all in the same house, which is now the Motown museum. It was musical history in the making and although Motown was moved to LA in 1972 those creative early years left their mark on music and popular culture not to mention the advancement in racial integration. At 85, Berry Gordy is still in fine fettle and living in LA. I was lucky to meet the great man a few years ago and he has lost none of his charming charisma and work ethic.
Now declared a historical building, and therefore afforded protected status, the museum is formed of the original building, with another section attached. Charting the rise of Motown and its numerous artists we had an exceptionally welcoming guide who recounting the labels meteoric rise. The museum houses Stevie wonders ‘Fingertips Part 2’ harmonica and Michael Jackson’s black top hat and sequined glove as worn on the original Billie Jean moonwalk video.
Berry Gordy’s upstairs apartment remains intact including his original sofa, the typewriter Martha Reeves and Diana Ross used on reception before their big chance came knocking and the candy machine Stevie Wonder adored as a child. The original cig machine at 35 cents a pack and of course the treasured gold and platinum discs are all on display.
The highlight comes as you walk down the steps into Studio A, also known as ‘the snake pit’. This is where the magic happened. All in it’s original condition, as the slightly musty smell will testify, the worn down wooden floor bears the scars of Motown legends.
The Temptations, Four Tops, Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves, The Commodores, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Jimmy Ruffin… they all recorded here.
An 1877 Steinway (restored at Paul McCartney’s expense) takes up a large chunk of the enclosed space, which was once a garage and the overlooking control room with its original mechanics and tape decks, was once a kitchen. Machine gun by Commodores last song recorded here in 1972 prior to the LA move.
In just eight years Berry Gordy turned a family loan of £800 into £20,000,000 and a small residential home into a must see musical mecca.
You can also visit the wonderful Eastern Market, Fisher Building, opera house, river walk (with Canada just across the Detroit river) and join the growing Slow Roll Detroit bike-riding phenomenon.
In short, after years of neglect Detroit has dusted itself down, got back in the ring, and fighting pound for pound for your attention eager to show you its many sites and sounds.
They are calling Detroit the ‘Come Back’ city and I’m inclined to agree. With Virgin Atlantic’s new direct route now open it’s a musical gateway that has never been easier to explore.