Motown’s birthplace draws crowds to studio where Michael Jackson got his start

By David Grant, AP
Friday, June 26, 2009

Mourners pay respects to Jackson at Motown studio

DETROIT — When Motown Records founder Berry Gordy signed The Jackson 5 four decades ago, he gave young Michael and his brothers from Indiana their first big break in the big city of Detroit.

On Friday, the Hitsville USA building in the Motor City — where the record label was born — served as a gathering place for dozens of mourners who cried, snapped photos with their cell phone cameras and danced to the pop icon’s tunes.

“I didn’t like that type of music, but he made me a fan,” Tom MacGruder, 74, said after touring the Hitsville museum a day after Jackson died in Los Angeles at age 50.

While a local business pumped some of Jackson’s greatest hits onto the street via an outdoor speaker, those who came to pay their respects laid flowers, stuffed animals and newspaper clippings on the steps of Hitsville. Several recalled brief encounters with the King of Pop.

“I shook Michael Jackson’s hand in 1990, and I never stopped dancing,” said Delores Rhodes, 53, who carried a purse emblazoned with the cover art from Jackson’s “Thriller” album.

Gene West, 49, security director at the Motown museum, said he had met Jackson while working at a downtown Detroit event.

“Michael looked like a million dollars, like the light was always shining on him,” West said. “If you were from the jungle in Madagascar, from out in the boonies, if you were a caveman, you would look at him and say, ‘Who is that guy?’”

Many spoke of Jackson’s role in furthering interracial understanding.

“He built bridges between cultures. He made music universal,” said Ashanti Webb, 57, a teacher with Detroit Public Schools.

The Jackson 5 made a positive impact on the public perception of young black men, said Rod Edwards, a Detroit radio commentator who toured Hitsville on Friday with his wife and 10-year-old son.

The museum is home to Studio A, where Jackson laid an initial claim to fame as a member of the group.

“It was a more clean, positive image,” Edwards said of The Jackson 5.

Gordy remembered the precocious talent of the group’s lead singer.

“When I first heard him sing Smokey (Robinson’s) song ‘Who’s Lovin You’ at 10 years old, it felt like he had lived the song for 50 years,” he said in a statement.

Young and old alike said Jackson’s musical legacy brought them together.

“My mom grew up with him. I grew up with him. It was different music, different songs, but the same man,” said Danyelle Claxton, 27. “He was a true icon.”

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