Tag Archive | Motown Museum

Detroit: The Motown Museum

What a birthday!  We got to Detroit just before 6 am Thursday morning, after taking a red-eye from Seattle.  When we arrived on my birthday, I was a bit groggy from the Dramamine still.  I did get a little bit of sleep during the flight, but the overnight flight was much harder on me this time than it was when we went to Georgia in June!  I guess now that I’m a year older, I don’t recover as quickly (HA HA!)

We got some tea and coffee and picked up our car – which took awhile (in fact I’ve never had a car rental take so long! – they were EXTREMELY thorough – annoyingly thorough), and headed out on our way.  We thought we would plug our first destination into the GPS, be on our way and find a place to stop for breakfast along the way.  Well, it didn’t really work out like that.  Pretty soon we were in the middle of downtown Detroit (and not a nice section at that…) and there were not any restaurants to be found.  We finally had to settle for McDonald’s.  Eh… birthday breakfast was a bit of a letdown!

Our first destination was the Motown Museum, but after breakfast, we still had an hour and a half to kill before the museum opened.  The Motown Museum is in a section of Detroit that is in the immediate vicinity of several abandoned homes and boarded up businesses.  In the morning, you don’t feel like you are going to be mugged, but I don’t think I would want to be in the area at night.  And I certainly didn’t want to spend an hour and a half walking around the neighborhood – although normally walking around neighborhoods is a favorite activity of mine – this would not be the place for a stroll.  So we backtracked out to a shopping mall in a safer area and did a little browsing.  And we found some great clearance deals on some clothes – icing on the cake!

So after killing an appropriate amount of time – it was back to Motown we went!  A bit of history on Motown for you…  Motown was the second record label founded by Berry Gordy, Jr., who borrowed $800 from his family’s savings fund to start a record company (the first label was Tamla).  The company was founded in 1959 and throughout the 1960s and 1970s was run from a home in Detroit, with a studio that was a converted garage in the back of the house.  The home was nicknamed “Hitsville U.S.A.” and is still called that today.

The Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan

Berry Gordy, Jr. was very strategic about how he operated his business, and made it his mission to fully transform his artists into stars.  When he signed an artist, they went through a very thorough process, that included voice lessons, etiquette lessons and dance choreography.  He also understood that artists were still very much judged by the color of their skin, so in the beginning he released records that did not have a photo of the artist on the cover.  That way, people wouldn’t dismiss it without even listening to it.

Radio stations in the 1960s frequently had a policy to not play more than three songs by any one label each hour, so Berry created multiple labels to get maximum air time.  Over the history of the company, Motown Records had over a dozen individual labels.  Creative way to get maximum exposure!

Other innovations in music recording included an echo chamber, which was basically a hole in the ceiling that echoed back sounds when people made noise underneath it.  If you snapped your fingers, or stomped your feet while standing below, the sound would echo and have more volume and substance.  Motown hired high school students to snap fingers on recordings.

The tour of Motown Records and Hitsville U.S.A. included the early administrative offices of the company, the recording studio, and the upstairs living quarters where Berry Gordy, Jr. lived before buying a mansion in the Detroit historic district.  The furniture throughout is original, and very early 60s. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was very much a simple family operation, boxing records for shipment at the dining room table.  And Smokey Robinson frequently spent the night on Berry Gordy Jr.’s couch when he was too tired to drive home after a late night recording session.

It was neat to try to imagine all the stars whose music we have heard over the years recording their music here.  Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, and many others!

Many of the Motown Stars

The tour begins with a video about the history of Motown, and has lots of fun video clips and historic photos.  Then they take you upstairs for the guided tour.  It is interactive, with our guide bursting into song and trying her best to get all of us to sing too!  Actually, although I am not a singer (you cannot get me drunk enough to sing karaoke), I did sing along – albeit quietly!  She demonstrated how the echo chamber works – and showed us where stars stood while recording in the studio.

If you find yourself in Detroit looking for something to do, I would recommend the Motown Museum.  It was a fun way to spend an hour!

Radio Silence

Again, we’ve been out of communication for awhile and for that, I apologize.  But we had the opportunity to travel again – this time to Michigan – home to most of my extended family!  It was a crazy week, trying to get ready to go, and the night before we were supposed to fly out, I had to work until almost 8:30 when we decided to keep working on a contract negotiations that was so close to a settlement!  After work on Wednesday, September 5, Jon and I drove down to Seattle, had a delicious dinner with Jon’s sister and brother-in-law, and flew out on a non-stop red-eye to Detroit, due to arrive at 6:10 am. Our flight was completely booked!

The purpose of the trip was two-fold – my cousin was getting married in East Lansing on the Michigan State University campus, and my grandmother is 95.  It worked out that I could squeeze a week’s vacation in between my coworkers’ time off and get enough of a reprieve from union negotiations to get 5 full days with no negotiations at work.  Once I had those days scheduled I had to guard them with my life though – there were several times I was asked about these dates – not available!

Obviously, the red-eye has its drawbacks, one of which is not getting a great night’s sleep on the plane.  We learned on our trip to the South that we can make it through the day without much sleep, as long as we don’t have too long of a drive after we get there.  The days leading up to the trip were really busy, so we didn’t have that long to research a few things to do.  I did have a few things on the itinerary, for the couple of days we had before meeting up with the family.

The Motown Museum – Jon is a music fanatic, and this has been on his list for a long time.  Motown is the record label founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. with an $800 family loan.  The tour includes the studio where Motown hits were recorded in the 1960s and 1970s.

The Detroit Institute of Arts – We were debating about either visiting this world renowned art museum, or the Titanic artifact exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.  The Detroit Institute of Arts won out.

Sandhill Crane Vineyards – I won a gift certificate to their new cafe on a contest on a wine blog back in April.  I was pleased, but we didn’t have a trip to Michigan scheduled at that time – so I had to wait until I would be visiting!  So we made sure we would be able to visit!

And for Jon, Encore Records in Ann Arbor – Again Jon is a music fanatic, and on his bucket list is a goal to visit each of the top 25 best independent record stores in the nation (actually he only has to visit 24 now – since one has since closed).  This record store would be his third.  I just found out about this unique goal the other day – so I suppose I will be visiting record stores even more than I already do!

The rest of the trip would be played by ear – fitting in what we could in between visiting family and traveling to the next location.  Now that we are home, I’ll tell you all about what we saw and did in upcoming posts!  Stay tuned!