Detroit is a Time Bomb –


Detroit birthed the black music style, ” MOTOWN “, .  This sound conquered the white market at a time of unprecedented racial and social upheaval as well as it attracted much commentary. And…, Motown Records, succeeded with white audiences and on the civil rights movement’s effect on that success by fostering ‘broader cultural integration.

Probably more than anything – I realized I wanted to do a show on Motown when  the American financial earthquake inwardly erupted  last year.  Detroit was where I was born, many of my family members and friends where financially tied to the Big Three Automotive industry for their mouths to be fed.. and my family owned its own business in Michigan for the past 65+ years. I  grew in Detroit from birth through  high school and  before going off to dance professionally  and choreograph in my adult years, I lived with the sound of the Motor City-  The Motown Sound blaring out of the open windows of my brother’s car as we tooled down Grand River .    

On January 12, 2009 the world began a yearlong celebration commemoration of the 50th anniversary of America’s supreme record label and global music icon—MOTOWN. Who would have thought back in ’59, when Barrett Strong sang “Money (That’s What I Want)”, that Hitsville U.S.A., my  beloved Motown, would become one of the most legendary, groundbreaking record labels in modern music history — and that we would be celebrating with great fondness its 50th Anniversary in 2009.

From their inconceivable team of staff writers, producers and studio musicians, to the astonishing galaxy of artists — Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes, the Jackson 5, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas and many more — Motown was, and still is, The Sound of Young America.

The Motown Sound went worldwide in the 60s, and that sound still resonates today. With nearly 200 #1 songs worldwide, Motown’s hits continue to appear worldwide in commercials, TV shows and movies and remain an influence on today’s biggest pop and R&B stars. Imagine the musical landscape without the songs such as “My Girl”, “Papa WasA Rolling Stone”, “Inner City Blues” and “I Hear It Thru the Grapevine”. These are the new standards. They represent the best of American culture worldwide.

But Motown stands for more than just the music: it is a reflection of the hard work of dedicated individuals overcoming incredible obstacles to achieve great success. Berry Gordy Jr., a young African American man, founded Motown Records with a loan of $800 from his family. Through determination and support of the Motown family of artists, Gordy forged new grounds for minorities and made the “Motown Sound” a worldwide phenomenon adored by millions. It’s an “only in America” story. And everyone can sing along.   

For that reason  I share Otis Williams of The Temptations feelings   ..  “Motown means to me what art means to Picasso, Music means to Bach, what Camelot means to King Arthur.  Motown was and will always be my Camelot.” 

During the first ten days of October 2008, the Dow Jones dropped 2399.47 points, losing 22.11% of its value and trillions of investor equity. The Federal Government pushed a $700 billion bail-out through Congress to rescue the beleaguered financial institutions. The collapse of the financial system in the fall of 2008 was likened to an earthquake.

In reality, what happened was more like a shift of tectonic plates and  Detroit became a Time Bomb.

Little did I know in hindsight how I would be affected by this . Just shy of finishing the Motown 50th Anniversary yearlong celebration — MOTOWN MANIA premieres for Charleston Ballet Theatre in less than 12 days. As with any creative project. the slow tedious process of  historical information  gathering began with  Steve Lepre, & Mark McKinney of Sunhead Projects.    I needed a hook- to tell my story.  The google digging became harder and harder.  The facts and more importantly for my needs, the images  are mind boggling which became my necessary thread to propel and jumpstart the viewer up to the setting.

Once America’s “arsenal of democracy,” Detroit over the last fifty years has become the symbol of the American urban crisis. Detroit and many other once prosperous industrial cities have become the sites of persistent racial poverty.  Probably Detroit is the most a unique case story  because of its total dominance on the AUTOMOBILE.  

Yes ….The Car-   The single most important American industry of the 20th century- with Detroit housing the three major auto makers home grew from scratch. in the Great Lakes Area .    Despite the proliferation of Japanese, Korean and German imports, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler managed to hold on to a majority of the domestic market, with a dizzying stable of makes and models that grew to near 17 million new car sales till  2007.

And here we are  now –  The shift has finalized. With an aging infrastructure built for twice the existing population, the city  has to shut down and vacated buildings  every year. For example In 2007, the school board awarded a contract for securing, cleaning and removing supplies from closed schools to a Philadelphia-based company with ties to school board members. However, the work at many closed schools was simply never done. As with any buildings left unsecured in Detroit, thieves looking for metal immediately broke in to steal copper pipes and other valuables. These “scrappers” were like locusts.  For me- a reminder of the looters of 1967 Riots.

I have seen pictures of the schools closed the previous year to find buildings stripped of metal but left with libraries full of books, computer labs upturned, art classrooms full of supplies, and administration offices filled with confidential and sensitive student records.

The landscape of America will be forever changed but the plates will continue to shift. Perhaps Five years from now,  American ingenuity will bring about a renaissance of the American automobile industry. The images words and conclusion  I have found  shows the   effects of self-reinforced ignorance and apathy.  To me, being a native born Detroiter a revelation.  Let’s hope out of that – a whole new lifestyle will be created.  I have got to hope and believe it will be.

Thus my thought process for MOTOWN MADNESS is recorded.  See you on the Flipside.


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