Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit

Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit

Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit

Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit

Excerpt

On a humid July afternoon in 1967, Martha and the Vandellas stepped onto the stage of Detroit's prestigious Fox Theater as the much anticipated grand finale of the "Swinging Time Revue." The revue, based on a local television show of the same name, was a regional version of Dick Clark's American Bandstand. Robin Seymour, a top disc jockey in the Detroit area, hosted the television show, which was broadcast from CKLW studios in Windsor, Canada. His live stage show featured performances by many local favorites in Detroit's rhythm and blues circuit. Acts including the Parliaments, who sang their hit "I Wanna Testify"; the Dramatics, who were promoting their single "All Because of You"; and the comedy act the Li'l Soul Brothers guaranteed a spirited show. Martha Reeves and the Vandellas were, of course, the main attraction with their repertoire of Motown hits such as "Nowhere to Run," "Jimmy Mack," and—appropriately for the sweltering summer day—"Heatwave." Their biggest number, however, was "Dancing in the Street."

Martha Reeves jumped into the song with her usual vigor, but she became distracted when a stage manager began to wave his hands and signal to her from the wings. Reeves finished the number and quickly went off stage to find out what was causing the commotion. The stage manager grabbed Reeves and told her that rioting had broken out on the streets of Detroit. A police raid on an illegal after-hours drinking spot, also known as a "blind pig," had ignited a burst of violence, looting, and . . .

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