A variety of Motown alumni returned to Hitsville USA today (Jan. 12) -- in Studio A, which the Four Tops' Abdul "Duke" Fakir referred to as "hallowed ground" -- to officially kick off a year-long celebration of the famed label's 50th anniversary.
Fakir was joined by other Detroit-based Motown artists, including Bobby Rogers of the Miracles, Rosalind Ashford of Martha & the Vandellas and Rare Earth's Gil Bridges, Funk Brothers Uriel Jones, Ivy Joe Hunter and Dennis Coffey, producer/arrangers Paul Riser and Johnny Allen, Motown manners coach Maxine Powell and songwriter Melvin Moore. Many will spend the week as celebrity docents at the Motown Historical Museum, housed in the company's original Hitsville Headquarters in midtown Detroit, as part of an In Their Own Words series.
"Fifty years is a wonderful anniversary," Fakir told Billboard.com. "You've got to give credit to the songs, but of course you've got to give credit to (Motown found) Berry Gordy for the vision. He had the whole vision, and he made it come true. It's just great to be part of that legacy and still be alive to talk about it."
Today marked 50 years since Gordy borrowed $800 from his family to start his own label. Gordy did not attend Monday's event but sent a message that was ready by Robin Terry, his grand-niece and CEO of the Motown museum. Gordy said he was "honored" by the celebration and noted that, "Motown music was for everybody, and it grew out of love. It has spread around the world and has become part of the culture and consciousness in all seven continents, and it all started right here."
Federal, state, county and local government officials appeared at the ceremony, each delivering a proclamation declaring Monday as Motown Day in their respective jurisdictions. The State of Michigan proclamation also "encouraged all citizens to...grab your favorite record and sing along."
Many of the artists expressed deep emotions, some with tears in their eyes, as they looked at the images and instruments around them. Funk Brothers drummer Jones noted that "I just hate to think what my life would've been like without Motown," while Rare Earth's Bridges said that "being with Motown is a very spiritual thing for me...I still am in awe of being part of this family." Hunter, meanwhile, brought things to a close by declaring, "God bless the dream. God bless the dreamer. God bless the result."
A variety of projects will mark Motown's 50th anniversary celebration. Gordy and former executive Suzanne DePasse are working on a feature-film documentary that will likely debut in September, as well as a series of long-form DVDs and archival album releases to follow the December release of the "Motown: The Complete No. 1's" box set. A Broadway musical is set for 2010.
A special Marvin Gaye exhibit is expected to open later this year at a facility outside Detroit, and the Motown museum is partnering with the Smithsonian Institution for a traveling exhibit that's slated to hit the road in 2010. The museum will also be displaying Annie Lebovitz's photos for Vanity Fair's Motown story in the months ahead.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame + Museum in Cleveland has also joined the party with Motown: The Sound of Young American Turns 50, an exhibit that opened Jan. 1 and will run for the entire year. Hallmark Gold Crown stores are selling a line of Recordable Cards for Valentine's Day featuring Motown music, as well as a 10-song CD compilation "Heart & Soul -- Celebrating 50 Years of Motown."