PB & Jenny

A twist to a favorite American standard. My thoughts on new adventures, also with a twist.

Berry Gordy & the Detroit Motown Museum January 20, 2008

I’ve always liked identifying famous people and products that have a Michigan connection, as well as interesting trivia about my home state.   I have a small sampling listed below.      

  • Food & drink = Faygo (the rock & rye truly rocks), Sanders (mmmm, best hot fudge), Better made potato chips, Mucky duck mustard, Kellogg’s cereal, Jiffy muffins, VRUIT juice, Vernor’s ginger ale (still the best for upset tummies)

  • Nicknames = The Motor City, Detroit Rock City, the Cars & Stars City, the Motown City, the Great Lakes State

  • Musicians = Bob Seger, Iggy Pop, Aretha Franklin, Madonna, Eminem, Kid Rock, many Motown musicians
  • Actors = Tim Allen, Gilda Radner, James Earl Jones, Pam Dawber, Tom Skerritt, Marlo Thomas, Lily Tomlin, Selma Blair, Kristen Bell 
  • Business execs = Jon De Lorean, Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Oscar Mayer, Tom Monaghan
  • Born in Detroit = Francis Ford Coppola, Charles Lindbergh, Ed McMahon
  • Movies set in Detroit = Beverly Hills Cop, Out of Sight, Grosse Point Blank, True Romance, 8 Mile
  • Fun trivia =
    • Only state that can claim to be north of Canada
    • We have more miles of shoreline than any other state
    • The Great Lakes hold one-fifth of the world’s supply of fresh water
    • Only state made of 2 peninsulas, an upper and lower (and we know what trolls and yoopers refer to)
      • The Mackinac Bridge connecting the upper and lower peninsulas is one of the longest suspension bridges in the world
    • We can use the palm of our right hand to point out where we live in MI (for lower peninsula), and left palm perpendicular to the right for the upper
    • We get to experience the 4 seasons in all their glory (though I could do with a shorter winter)
    • We have incredibly long summer days. It doesn’t get dark until really late because we’re a westernmost state in the Eastern time zone.

    And, of course, we’re internationally known for the MOTOWN SOUND! 

    I’m behind on my newspaper reading, but just saw an article from last week that indicated Motown Records founder Berry Gordy will be honored after the 50th Grammy Awards on Feb 10th with the Recording Academy’s “Grammy Salute to Industry Icons.”  You know he’s hoping that the WGA strike doesn’t cancel the show.  He was previously inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

    I recently went to the Motown Museum for the first time.  I used one of the free museum passes sponsored by Macy’s which are good for admittance to about 30 museums in Michigan.  Before I went, I knew very little about the history of Motown or Berry Gordy.  I just knew I liked the music.   I am listening to some now to inspire me, and I can’t help but do the white girl head bop as well as groove in my seat while I’m typing.     

    I learned that Berry started Motown Records in 1959 when he was in his 20s on an $800 loan from his family.  He based his business on an assembly line approach that he learned from the auto companies.  Each of his buildings was compartmentalized for a specific purpose – – this building for recording, that one for finance/payroll, this other one for etiquette training, etc. He nurtured the careers of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and The Jackson 5 among many others.  

    He also founded a movie production company called Motown Productions.  Their first feature film was Lady Sings the Blues, a film based on Billie Holliday’s life starring Diana Ross.  It was well received and earned Diana an Academy Award nomination, as well as 4 others for the film.  Such success wasn’t enjoyed by one of their later films, The Wiz.  I don’t know how well The Last Dragon did either, but it looked campy cool from a poster displayed at the museum.  

    The special Motown Sound came courtesy of the Funk Brothers musicians.  They played on more number one hits than the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, Elvis and the Beatles combined(!!!), but they were virtually unknown.  A documentary film called Standing in the Shadows of Motown was made about the Funk Brothers in 2003 which gave them a chance to bask in the limelight for the first time in their lives.  While their talent is phenomenal, and their back stories are interesting (I think I gleaned most of that from bonus features on the DVD), the movie was not so great.  I’m glad though that it was made, since it was a tribute to these musicians, and gave them the opportunity to get some fiercely deserved credit.