De­troit’s ‘67 ri­ots halted mu­sic, helped re­cal­i­brate sound

Kuwait Times - - LIFESTYLE -

It wasn’t sweet mu­sic that brought Martha Reeves to the mi­cro­phone at the Fox The­atre that day in July 1967; it was bru­tal re­al­ity. De­troit was burn­ing. Head­lin­ing a string of shows for a home­town crowd, the singer of “Heat­wave,” “Danc­ing in the Street” and other hits an­nounced that ri­ot­ing had spread through the city. Leave calmly, she said, and re­turn safely to your homes. Fifty years later, the leader of Martha and the Van­del­las still can’t quite be­lieve it hap­pened. “Imag­ine go­ing out there light­hearted and ready to work,” she said. “My heart was beat­ing so fast af­ter re­turn­ing to the dress­ing room.”

In the days that fol­lowed, Mo­town’s “Sound of Young Amer­ica” - on the stage and in the stu­dio - was si­lenced by the sights and sounds of sirens, gun­shots, fires and mil­i­tary tanks along De­troit’s streets. For about a week, as the city was con­vulsed in vi­o­lence that be­gan when po­lice ar­rested black pa­trons at an af­ter­hours bar, the stu­dio went dark. Mo­town was near the epi­cen­ter but largely spared dur­ing un­rest that en­veloped 25 city blocks and claimed 43 lives.

What hap­pened in the streets was a wakeup call for many at the la­bel that churned out hits by the Van­del­las, as well as Smokey Robin­son and the Mir­a­cles, the Supremes, Ste­vie Won­der, Mar­vin Gaye, Temp­ta­tions, Four Tops and oth­ers.

The ri­ot­ing, the dead­li­est of dozens that raged that sum­mer in US ci­ties, raised con­scious­ness and even re­cal­i­brated the mu­sic along­side the Viet­nam War and as­sas­si­na­tions of Martin Luther King Jr and Robert Kennedy. At the time of the ri­ots, Mo­town truly was “Hitsville USA.” Ac­cord­ing to au­thor and Mo­town ex­pert Adam White, the la­bels that com­prised the com­pany had eight sin­gles in the Bill­board Hot 100 that week, in­clud­ing two songs in the top 20 and a cou­ple more that were cov­ered by oth­ers.

Al­though Mo­town tunes con­tin­ued to play on the ra­dio dur­ing those deadly days of un­rest, it was the first time in years that the stu­dio at 2648 W Grand Boule­vard, fa­mous for man­u­fac­tur­ing mu­sic around-the-clock, had gone quiet for such a long pe­riod. Mo­town’s record­ing ses­sion logs, now kept in a New York City vault main­tained by the Univer­sal Mu­sic Group, show work halted on July 22 and didn’t re­sume un­til July 31, ac­cord­ing to com­pany of­fi­cials.

As chaos de­scended, loyal Mo­town staffers thought it would be busi­ness as usual. “All day Sun­day ... TV was to­tally in­volved in cov­er­ing as much as they could - in spite of that there were some of us who got up Mon­day morn­ing and made our way to work,” said Pat Cosby, who worked in the stu­dio’s tape li­brary. “We did hear gun­fire as we’re on the Lodge (free­way) and even then we’re think­ing, ‘I got to get to work.’ We did not re­al­ize the over­all de­struc­tion that was go­ing on.”

Cosby re­called that she and her col­leagues were met and “ba­si­cally turned around at the door” by Mo­town founder Berry Gordy Jr The man who founded the la­bel in 1959 with an $800 fam­ily loan told his em­ploy­ees that, much to his dis­may, the sonic assem­bly line had stopped. “Berry says, ‘You’re putting your lives in dan­ger. What are you do­ing here?’” Cosby re­called. — AP

In this Nov 3, 1964 file photo, Amer­i­can pop trio Martha Reeves and the Van­del­las dance for pho­tog­ra­phers at an air­port in Lon­don, ar­riv­ing for TV ap­pear­ances and record­ing work in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal. — AP

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