DETROIT -- The Four Top's Abdul "Duke" Fakir called it "hallowed ground," and it was the perfect place to start the official celebration of Motown's 50th anniversary on Monday (Jan. 12).
A variety of Motown alumni and Michigan politicians gathered before an international corps of reporters at Studio A in the Motown Historical Museum -- the site of the legendary record company's Hitsville USA headquarters -- to launch what will be more than a year of special programs and activities to commemorate the legendary company that Berry Gordy, Jr., started with an $800 loan from his family on Jan. 12, 1959.
"Fifty years is a wonderful...anniversary," Fakir said before the start of Monday's ceremony. "It's just great to be part of that legacy and still be alive to talk about it."
Detroit Mayor Kenneth Cockerel, Jr., Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick (D.-Detroit) and Barbara Jean Johnson, Michigan's Director of Community Affairs -- standing in for Gov. Jennifer Granholm -- all presented proclamations declaring Monday Motown Day in their respective jurisdictions. (Traffic kept Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit) from attending). Granholm proclamation also "encouraged all citizens to...grab your favorite record and sing along."
Fakir, meanwhile, was joined by other Detroit-based Motown artists, including Bobby Rogers of the Miracles, Rosalind Ashford of Martha & the Vandellas amd Rare Earth's Gil Bridges, Funk Brothers Urliel 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, from noon to 4 p.m. each day as part of an In Their Own Words series. The museum has cut its regular admission fee in half for the week.
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." He also included a verse of "Hello Detroit," a song he co-wrote especially for the city that was sung by Sammy Davis, Jr.
Cockerel noted that on Monday "it is truly a pleasure...to be the mayor, not of Hockeytown, not of the automotive capitol, but the mayor of Motown." Riser called Motown "a once in a lifetime event" and predicted fans cold "look for another 50 years" of Motown's impact.
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 on Monday 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."
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