You didn't have to grow up in the 1960s to be a fan of the Motown sound, and you don't have to be African-American to be a fan of the Motown sound.  If you are in your 40s, 50s or 60s, you probably spent hours listening to the songs sung by Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops and the great Marvin Gaye.  These singers and many others such as Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5 are all part of the music empire founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. which came to be known as the Motown Sound. 

Located in the original house in Detroit where Berry Gordy, Jr. lived, and christened Hitsville U.S.A, the Motown Museum tells the history of how, after receiving only a $3.00 royalty check for a hit song he wrote, Berry Gordy, on the advice of his good friend, Smokey Robinson, borrowed $800 from his family, began writing and producing his own songs.  In just 7 years, he turned his company into a multi-million dollar music conglomerate.
There are six houses on West Grand Boulevard in addition to the two houses shown above that Berry Gordy purchased in the 1960s.  It was from these houses that the different branches of the Motown company were run.  Back in the early 1960s it was a fact that African-Americans really couldn't own commercial property, so many African-American-owned companies were run out of their private homes.  Berry Gordy lived on the second floor of the Hitsville U.S.A home.  On the first floor were the administrative offices and the recording studio.  The other homes housed areas of the company such as the finance department, the music publishing department and personal development department.  In addition to being a genius songwriter, producer and publisher, Berry Gordy was smart enough to hire the best choreographers, voice coaches, and a woman to teach poise, grooming and the social graces to these young singers, most of whom were still in their early teenage years when discovered by Gordy.  But Gordy knew they would become superstars in the White music market and go on to perform for presidents and royalty; thus, they needed to talk, walk and act accordingly.

In front of the Hitsville U.S.A. house this two-sided marker gives a brief synopsis of the history of Motown:

Unfortunately you are not allowed to take any photos in the museum.  These two pictures copied from the museum's website give you an idea of what you see during the tour.  

Photos courtesy: www.motownmuseum.com
The photo to the left shows how the museum is set up: several rooms with walls displaying old photos of Motown stars, plaques showing the gold and platinum 45s and albums, original album covers, costumes and other memorabilia.  You will see a hat and jeweled white glove Michael Jackson donated to the museum.

The photo to the right shows the original Studio A where all those Motown hits were recorded.  The musical equipment in the studio is the original musical equipment used during those recordings.  As part of the tour you go into the studio.  If you have as lively a tour guide as we did, you'll have a chance to sing and dance on the same floor that all those Motown stars did.  From 1959 to 1972, Studio A was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Other highlights of a museum tour include:
  • The Echo Chamber: A hole was cut into the ceiling.  Berry Gordy would pull complete strangers off the street to stand under the hole and just clap or sing.  He then set up equipment in the hole that allowed the sound effect to filter down into the recording studio.  This sound effect became known as The Motown Sound.
  • Berry Gordy's apartment:  The second floor of the Hitsville U.S.A. house has been recreated to look exactly as it did when he lived there and contains some of the original furniture.
  • The Control Room, Switchboard and Secretary's Desk: The business side of the company was run from the first floor of the Hitsville U.S.A. house.  During the tour you will see the original telephone switchboard, the desk where the receptionist greeted visitors (along with the original typewriter) and the control room equipment used to record and mix the famous Motown hits.
  • Original Candy Bar Vending Machine: Sitting just outside the recording studio is a candy bar vending machine with the same candy bars that were popular during the 1960s...remember the Milkshake Bar?  (It evolved into today's Milky Way.)  The story was told to us that friends of Little Stevie Wonder would leave nickels and dimes on top of the vending machine.  Stevie knew where to find them, how to put the coins in the slot and how to count over three or four knobs to pick out his favorite candy bar.
  • Motown Influence:  By the end of the tour you will learn just how influential the Motown Sound was on all future types of music, and not just in the U.S.

The Motown Museum is one of Detroit's most popular tourist attractions.  In our tour group were couples from all parts of the U.S. such as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Nashville, Washington D.C. and Portland, Oregon.  And it's not just ordinary tourists who visit the museum:  Imagine recently giving Sir Paul McCartney a tour of the museum and discussing a photograph of the Beatles with the Paul McCartney.  Unbelievable! 

Motown Museum
Detroit, MI  48208

Summer Hours (July through August):
  • Monday thru Saturday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM 
  • Closed Sunday
Regular Hours:
  • Tuesday thru Saturday 10:00 AM to 6:00 PM
  • Closed Sunday and Monday.
General Admission:
  • Adults: $10.00 per person
  • Seniors and children 12 & under: $8.00 per person

Such is Berry Gordy's importance to Detroit's history that this section of West Grand Boulevard is renamed Berry Gordy Jr. Boulevard:

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