Motown sound returns to where it began 50 years ago with founder, ‘family,’ famous friends

By Jeff Karoub, AP
Saturday, November 21, 2009

Motown caps 50th anniversary with hometown gala

DETROIT — Black ties and gowns filled a ballroom Saturday in a big-bucks salute to Detroit-style royalty — the King of Motown, the Queen of Soul and the Kid of Rock.

Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, along with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder and Kid Rock came to Motown’s original hometown for the Motown 50 Golden Gala. The 50th-anniversary event, which fetched $350 and up for a ticket, was a fundraiser for the Motown Historical Museum. The museum was the original home of Motown Records Corp., which Gordy started with an $800 loan.

The event drew about 750 people and many of the big names and behind-the-scenes people from the label, which moved to Los Angeles in 1972. Detroit’s output included scores of hits, including “My Girl” by The Temptations, “The Tears of a Clown” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and “I Heard it Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye.

“The pleasure is mine to be here,” Gordy said during a pre-concert reception. “I’m thrilled I got the nurturing and all of the things Detroit had to offer me. Motown could not have made it in any other city.”

Gordy was joined on the red carpet earlier in the evening by local and national celebrities and dignitaries, including Otis Williams of the Temptations, which was on the bill; Claudette Robinson of the Miracles; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; comedian Sinbad, the event’s host; and Detroit Mayor and former Detroit Pistons all-star Dave Bing.

The musical mingling of classic Motown artists such as Wonder and The Temptations with non-Motown hometown heroes Franklin and Rock reveals the reverence for and relevance of the label.

Kid Rock was scheduled to perform with Wonder on the Motown great’s song “Living For The City.”

“I’m excited, I’m happy, I’m blessed just to be from here,” Kid Rock said as he sauntered in the ballroom before the concert, calling it a career “milestone.”

Wonder ran his band through a sound check that included “Isn’t She Lovely,” ”Higher Ground” and a simple, spare version of “Overjoyed.”

The gala is a regular event for the museum, but it took a higher profile this year to mark the 50th anniversary of the label’s founding.

Museum CEO Audley Smith said the facility wants to expand to hold thousands of artifacts and memorabilia that can’t be displayed because of space, but he stressed the museum will maintain the integrity of the well-known Hitsville USA house on West Grand Boulevard.

The gala also included special tributes to Motown alumni who have died, including Michael Jackson. Gordy, at Jackson’s memorial service in July, talked about the 10-year-old prodigy he signed, calling him “the greatest entertainer that ever lived.”

Homecomings are rare these days for Gordy, who lives in California, but bonds remain: His sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, founded the museum now overseen by his great-niece, Robin Terry. He’s also a premier sponsor of the gala.

Associated Press Writer Mike Householder contributed to this report.

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