'Motown the Musical' Feels the Love Back in the Motor City

Berry Gordy

Berry Gordy

"The Motown family cannot NOT love each other," Berry Gordy, Jr. recently told Billboard. And there was certainly plenty of love in the room on Tuesday night when Gordy and dozens of Motown alumni -- artists, musicians executives, recording engineers, secretaries and more -- gathered at Detroit's Roostertail nightclub to celebrate the opening of Motown The Musical back where Gordy started the company in 1958.

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Dubbed Motown Homecoming: Celebrating a Musical Legacy, the event brought out figures such as Martha Reeves, The Four Tops' Abdul "Duke" Fakir, The Miracles' Claudette Robinson, Funk Brothers guitarist Dennis Coffey and members of The Contours, The Vandellas, The Marvelettes, The Velvelettes and more, along with songwriter-producers such as Mickey Stevenson and Robert Bateman. Deceased Motown icons such as The Supremes' Florence Ballard, the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs and musicians Thomas "Beans" Bowles and James Jamerson were represented by their children. 

Michael Bolton, who released a Motown tribute album in 2013 and is making a documentary about Detroit's comeback, was there, too, performing "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and telling Gordy from the stage that "what you've done has rock this world."

"It's always good to be back home," Gordy, accompanied by girlfriend Eskedar Gobeze, told the crowd after receiving a special proclamation from U.S. Rep. John Conyers and the key to the city from Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. "For me this is truly a homecoming, bringing the Motown story back to where it all began. Everything started here...and now here I am more than 50 years later."

Gordy then called some of the original Motown alumni on stage to join him in singing "The Motown Company Song" that was written by Smokey Robinson during the '60s. 

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"This is wonderful, man," Stevenson said afterwards. "It's like time stood still. Of course it didn't. We're all older, but the feelings are the same." Fakir and Reeves both noted that they wished the musical had opened in Detroit first, but Reeves, a former Detroit City Councilwoman, added that she's "so glad the musical is here, finally. It's good. It's about time the story was told, and it's good it was told by the master himself."

"It makes you feel good to be part of something that touches not only yourself and your family but also touched the world," Claudette Robinson said. "We're all so blessed and extremely that today, 2014, people still play our music and buy our records. Who would've known when we first began that any of this would take place. It's just a wonderful feeling."

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"Motown The Musical" will be in Detroit through Nov. 16. Gordy and director Charles Randolph-Wright were planning to speak to an estimated 1,000 Detroit public school students on Wednesday.