"When Motown people get together, there's just magic," says company founder Berry Gordy, Jr., "because we all love each other, and we all know the work is the main thing.
"We can enjoy it more now, looking back, but we enjoyed it so much then, just doing it."
There will be plenty of joy and love this weekend, as Gordy and the rest of the Motown family return to the Motown empire's birthplace of Detroit for two nights of parties celebrating the legendary record company's 50th anniversary -- and benefiting the Motown Historical Museum. On Friday (Nov. 20) the troupe will hit the Roostertail nightclub on the Detroit River -- the scene of many a Motown performance and party during the '60s and early '70s -- for a private alumni reception followed by a "Bop to the Ballroom" bash at which the artist will meet and greet fans and possibly sing some of their hits.
On Saturday (Nov. 21) the museum will host a Motown 50 Golden Gala fundraiser, a $350-per-person black tie annual event -- though 2008 was skipped in order to prepare for this year's golden anniversary party. The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Kid Rock are slated to perform for an expected crowd of 500 at the ballroom in the GM Renaissance Center's Marriott hotel. Comedian Sinbad will host, and special honors will be given to early Motowners Smokey Robinson, Brian Holland, Robert Bateman, Janie Bradford and Raynoma Singleton.
The evening will also include memorial tributes to Michael Jackson, the Four Tops' Levi Stubbs and producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield, all of whom passed away since the 2007 gala.
Motown Historical Museum COO Audley Smith calls the weekend, dubbed Live It Again!, "the culminating event of a series of year-long events commemorating Motown's 50th anniversary," which started last December with the release of a 10-CD box set "Motown: The Complete No. 1's." He considers the Saturday night lineup "phenomenal" and notes that "we're now at a point where it's an embarrassment of riches and we've had to graciously decline the offer of some other folk to perform as well."
Some artists such as Robinson, Diana Ross and the Four Tops can't attend due to out-of-town commitments, but Smith expects a thorough gathering of Motown figures as well as guests such as actor Wesley Snipes and TV personality Judge Greg Mathis.
"We've gotten calls from London, from Montreal, from all over," Smith says of interest in the Live It Again! weekend's events. "There was a major uptick after we announced Aretha would perform. Obviously with this kind of economy we were a bit concerned about the price point for the tickets, but there's obviously a lot of excitement there."
Smith says the gala brings in 10-15 percent of the museum's annual operating budget.
Motown's 50th anniversary observation will not end with this weekend's parties, however. Gordy former Motown staffer Suzanne DePasse, who won a 1983 Emmy Award for the Motown 25th anniversary TV special, are still in the midst of producing a feature film documentary as well as a series of DVDs chronicling the company's history. A Broadway musical built around Motown songs is also on track for a 2010 debut, and director Cameron Crowe is working on a Marvin Gaye biopic.
The museum, meanwhile, plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with two special exhibits for 2010 -- one spotlighting Gaye in April, the other dedicated to Michael Jackson in July. The museum is also in discussions with the Smithsonian Institution and the Los Angeles-based Grammy Museum about creating a traveling Motown exhibit, and Smith says shrine is still working towards an expansion around its current location in Motown's original Histville USA headquarters on Grand River Boulevard.
"We need to grow," Smith notes. "We've got massive amounts of memorabilia that need to be on display so we can tell a fuller story about Motown and the artists."
The Motown story, meanwhile, will continue to loom large, and Gordy says he's looking forward to sharing it as the golden anniversary continues.
"It certainly does not feel like 50 years," he notes, "but I look at all the stuff that's happened and...it's almost like a dream to me that all the stuff was done. I'm just now beginning to appreciate it. Now I can look back and say, 'OK, we did it. We really did it. Isn't that great?' "
Motown's Live It Again! 50th anniversary celebration begins with "Bop to the Ballroom" at 7 p.m. Friday (Nov. 20) at the Roostertail, 100 Marquette Drive, Detroit. Tickets are $50. The Motown 50 Golden Gala takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday (Nov. 21) at the Renaissance Ballroom in the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit. Tickets begin at $350. A VIP reception and afterglow are also available. Tickets can be purchased by calling (313) 875-2264 or visiting www.motownmuseum.com.
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