Listen' That's what you did. The sound was toe-tapping, hand-clapping, silky smooth and mellow. "The Sound of Young America."
It was January 1959. Independent songwriter Berry Gordy Jr. purchased a small house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, hung a sign out front that read, "Hitsville USA," and made a glorious contribution to American entertainment and business history. Nearly 30 years later his sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, recognized that "there are people who in their lives are preservationists, people who keep things. I am that person."
In 1988 Edwards opened the Motown Historical Museum. Located on the original site where stars were born, gold records were made, and dreams were realized, the tiny museum boasts an impressive collection of recordings, photographs and memorabilia. Though it was not her original intent to open a museum, Edwards had saved what she considered important. Two factors provided her with the impetus she needed to start the museum - her desire to keep precious memories, and an onslaught of fans who mistakenly thought Motown Record Corporation was still headquartered in Detroit after it had moved to Hollywood in 1972. "That gave me the idea that maybe Motown made history that had a global impact," she says.
Thousands of die-hard fans - from Canada, Europe and Japan as well as the United States - visit the museum every year. As chairman of the board of the Motown Historical Museum, Edwards works tirelessly to restore and improve upon the site.
In the early days, Berry Gordy lived upstairs in the main house. Eventually, he bought seven houses on the street, each one serving a unique function, such as recording studio, artist development or business office. The artifacts are assembled in the house where it all began. "Berry said, |I'm not in the museum business, but I don't need the houses,' and he donated the structures," Edwards says.
From the moment visitors arrive for a tour of the museum, which takes a little over an hour, the story unfolds. Gold and platinum records line the small lobby; overhead, unforgettable songs fill guests' ears. Past the lobby is the famed Studio A. "Studio A is where it all happened," says Rowena Stewart, who has been the executive director of the museum for 15 months. "All of the original equipment is in there."
Studio A is where the actual recordings were made. The cracked, broken floor in the control room attests to the toe-tapping that went on. "From 1959 to 1972 the studio was open 24 hours a day," Stewart adds. "Remember - many people worked other jobs; they weren't stars yet; they recorded at night."
Upstairs, the house is divided into small rooms that continue the story of Motown's history. One room portrays the Gordy family and the background from which Berry Gordy emerged. Arguably, this is the gem of the collection, for many people don't realize that Gordy was a welterweight …