Invitation across the nation for dancing in the street

Published 4:27 pm Friday, September 27, 2019

You know that feeling.

You’re in the car, maybe tooling around the house or the garage, even getting that smart-speaker personal voice assistant to blast out some tunes.

“Alexa, play the Four Tops!”

And that’s when the finger-snappin’, toe-tappin’, head-rockin’, and booty-shakin’ starts.

And, for that I say, thank you, Berry Gordy.

Sunday, the man who showed us how to ‘bring over some of your old Motown records’ announced he’s riding off into the entertainment sunset.

The announcement came in the Motor City itself – Detroit, Michigan – where Gordy, who in 1959 was just an auto worker at Chrysler, took an $800 loan from family members and launched a musical empire with the founding of Motown. The retirement also comes as Gordy donated $4 million of his own money to help establish the Motown Museum, a restoration and preservation project for the little house on West Grand Boulevard where so many of those musical hits from the 60’s and 70’s were recorded. With his voice cracking the man who launched hundreds of melodious careers had one more desire to put in motion.

“This it will inspire young people to go after their dreams, as I went after mine,” an emotional Gordy declared. “I have come full circle, producing awesome artists, music, singers, song writers, and musicians; and, it’s only appropriate that in the city where my amazing fairy tale began, that I should announce my retirement.”

Gordy should be remembered for the love he had for his fans, and they returned that love with their hard-earned dollars at record stores and retail counters across the country for over a half-century.

There’s a story that goes, during his barnstorming sessions with in-house music producers, he would play their latest effort on a small turntable and ask around the room: “If you had just one dollar left, would you buy this record, or a sandwich!?!”

Thank goodness so many teens and young adults would rather have gone hungry.

In every living room, every basement, every party or dance hall, Motown was there. It was there at Sam Pillmon’s Record Store in Ahoskie, where I snuck behind my parents’ back and bought the Supremes’ “Stop In the Name of Love”. It was there too, when my first cousin proudly announced he’d learned to play the bass guitar listening to so many of those Motown songs.

I had an opportunity to visit the little house they dubbed Hitsville, USA back in the mid-90’s on a family visit to Detroit. It was, pardon the pun, a ‘grand’ experience. People as far away as London, England were touring the museum. I met a woman from Belgium who was excited just to be inside the building

Gordy sold the label in 1988 followed by the song-publishing division several years later. By the late 70’s his empire had spread from music to film. The Motown story in some form has been told through television from the Ed Sullivan Show to specials, to documentaries. It’s even sang and danced its way across the stages of Broadway from fictional plays to musical revues.

The enterprising Gordy helped revolutionize American and global culture via Motown, shepherding young Detroit talent and eventually churning out stars such as Diana Ross & the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and the Jackson 5.

At the funeral for Michael Jackson, one of Gordy’s most prolific discoveries, he asserted that Jackson was more than the ‘King of Pop’, but rather acknowledging his young prodigy as “the greatest entertainer that ever lived”.

Don’t sell yourself short, because so too were you, Berry; so too were you.

Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at: gene.motley@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7211.