Reliving Motown, a genre that changed everything

by Bryant Liggett

The USA may be the butt of the world’s jokes for a number of reasons, but, save for shitty pop, music isn’t one. Jazz and blues, outlaw and alternative country and rock ’n’ roll belong to America, along with soul and the music of Motown. At some time in your life you have sung along with one of the songs from the pool of Motown hits that came out of Detroit.

It’s influenced any and all genres after in melody, songwriting and performance.

That influence may be obvious when you’re watching Justin Timberlake or suffering through a Justin Bieber routine. But even at an independent level, the likes of Jon Spencer, Sharon Jones and bands like the Dirtbombs all have a little Motown flair. It’s also a gateway genre, inspiring further exploration into the lesser-known acts that were making soul music around the country. Any music geek who has The Four Mints, Bill Moss or artists from Chicago’s Twinight Record label or Columbus, Ohio’s Capsoul Label in their collection got to that obscurity through an appreciation of classic Motown.

The celebrated and critically-acclaimed Motown tribute act “So Good for the Soul” will relive this era Thursday at the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College. It’s a large production that has kicked around the obvious stops in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, along with nationwide touring. It’s a full show complete with big band and choreography with renditions of what are now American classics from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the rest of the revered canon of Motown. It’s not only a show featuring familiar music that has been a major part of pop culture, it’s a worldwide recognition of its cultural contribution.

“Motown is perhaps one of the most iconic, evocative music of the ’60s. It brought people of different backgrounds and cultures together on the dance floor and as audiences at concerts,” said pianist, musical arranger and emcee Gary Tupper. “The songs are beautifully-realized little gems crafted by masters. Everyone can appreciate it and respond to it. The amazing end result is pure perfection and joy.”

Larger than the music, it was a vital contribution to integration, as the music, aided by radio and the then new technology of television, delivered the then-largely-unknown style of music and culture nationwide, including into the homes of white America. Motown gave African-American performers some solid recognition in American entertainment.

“Motown represented the finest elements of the rich cultural mosaic of the African-American community coupled with the driving beat of ‘young America’ at the time,” Tupper said. “The demand for it has never been stronger except in its earliest, original era. Generations continue to turn on the next group coming up. And it goes on and on. But also it offers so many who experienced it during their youth to relive that initial excitement as they groove once again to the inimitable songs that gave people of all backgrounds their first exposure to soul music.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. [email protected].

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