If you don’t know anything about me, Da-Professor is that I’m a huge fan of Motown Records and it’s legacy. I became interested in the famous label during my mid-teens after reading the memoirs of Mary Wilson, Michael Jackson, Otis Williams, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and Martha Reeves as well as listening to my mother’s Motown Story album. I’ve written several articles and reviews on several of the Motown artists and I also feature tributes to many of the artists on my podcast Da-Professor’s Lounge.
I had watched the Motown 60 Anniversary and while I enjoyed several of the performances especially Ciara’s tribute to Punk Funk King and Motown Legend Rick James, it would have been nicer had other surviving Motown Legends had performed with several of their surviving labelmates and the young artists.
The anniversary special began with the show’s hosts Actor/Comedian Cedric The Entertainer and Motown Legend Smokey Robinson thanking the crowd for watching and tuning with the former acknowledging Robinson. “It’s a miracle I get to stand with my new neighbor Smokey” Cedric excitedly told the crowd before Smokey introduced Stevie Wonder who joked about meeting and working with Berry Gordy before he launched into his classic “Sir Duke” which had the crowd including Singer Val Young out their seats. That was followed by a video of Smokey speaking about how Gordy called him in the late evening to inform him that he wanted The Miracles to record a new version of their hit “Shop Around” at 3’oclock that morning. Smokey later performed the classic with Pop group Paradox. Next Grammy Award winning Rapper/Songwriter/Actress/Television Personality Eve spoke about the ladies of Motown’s impact on the label and while she acknowledged Berry’s sisters, she also acknowledged Mary Wells, The Marvelettes and The Supremes, which was followed by a video of original Supreme Mary Wilson speaking about the group and how they were called the No-Hit Supremes before hitting the big time. What made this video special was clips of the original line-up appearing on the Ed Sullivan show including a performance of Mary, Florence and Diana performing “You Can’t Hurry Love” which later faded into the ladies tribute which featured Meghan Trainor who performed The Supremes’ top charting classic while Singing Twin Sisters Halle & Chole performed Motown’s 1st # 1 Pop single “Please Mr. Postman” which was originally recorded by The Marvelettes. I loved how the Twins sang with soul. American Idol Winner Fantasia did Mary Wells justice with her rendition of Wells’ # 1 Us and UK Pop hit “My Guy” by starting off with a Blues/Gospel version before singing it in it’s original format. The highlight of the Ladies tribute was when Themla Houston took the audience to the Disco Tech with her performance of her # 1 Disco/Pop/R&B classic “Don’t Leave Me This Way” with the young singers including Tori Kelly joining her and the background singers.
Smokey returned and told the crowd that his all time favorite album was his friend and label mate Marvin Gaye’s classic breakthrough social conscious album “What’s Going On” before he introduced John Legend who performed the album’s classics “Mercy, Mercy Me” and the title track in which he added ad-libbing due to him forgetting one of the words of the lyrics, but his piano playing and ad-libbing compensated for the loss. “His music set the standard” Legend told the audience about Marvin’s breakthrough album and how he used his music as a platform to address social issues.
Next was a video of Smokey, Berry and Lamont Dozier of Holland-Dozier-Holland speaking about creating hits for the artists. “Berry Wanted songs that reached you in the 1st and 4th bars” Cedric told the crowd before he engaged the audience in the 1st of two karaoke type performances by asking Ricky Minor and the Motown 60th Anniversary band to play some of the hits which included I Heard It Through The Grapevine, My Girl and Ain’t No Mountain High Enough which featured members of the audience singing the classics with pride and fun.
The special continued with videos of several Motown specials including Motown 25, 30, Motown Returns to The Apollo and Diana which was followed by Cedric dressed like the late Don Conerlius of Soul Train to speak about the era of Soul and Funk and speak about Rick James who took Motown to another level. “Rick James wasn’t the character that Dave Chapelle played. Rick James was the character that Rick James played” Cedric told the crowd before he introduced Ciara who’s tribute to the King of Punk Funk was one of my favorite parts of the show. Dressed in long braids and a body suit, the Award Winning performer performed James’ classic Super Freak in a seductive way before launching into his # 1 R&B classic “Give It To Me Baby” with 4 female dancers who resembled his female group The Mary Jane Girls and let me tell you, Ciara did him justice. Not only with her dancing, but with her singing. In fact she mimicked the song’s bass line like she was singing along to the record. Her performance was so hot that it had the crowd out their seats wanting more and if Rick were alive, he would jump up and say That’s Ciara Bitch!!!
A clip of President Barack Obama speaking about Motown’s impact on civils right and how the artists helped many achieve the American dream before Stevie introduced Smokey Robinson who performed a medley of hits he recorded with The Miracles which included The Tracks of My Tears, Ooh Baby Baby which could have been better had he performed the song’s bridge and Tears of A Clown before launching into his Grammy Award winning classic Just To See Her.
I was shocked that the special re-aired the Motown Tribute that featured Jennifer Lopez performing her tribute at the Grammy Awards in February and while her vocals on Motown’s 1st single Money was strong, she did way too much booty shaking for this performance. And while she’s a great entertainer, she didn’t need to be rolling on the piano.
Next part of the show featured Mary Wilson, Mickey Stevenson and Smokey speaking about the Motown Revue tour and how they experience racism during the Jim Crow era. Mickey and Mary spoke about not being allowed to eat at certain diners in the south and performing at venues where a white rope had kept Blacks and Whites separated. Mary also spoke about how their music was making the fans enjoy themselves.
Cedric then spoke to the audience about the artists and staff who contributed to the legacy and asked them to stand and the crowd applauded when they saw Mary Wilson, Otis Williams of The Temptations, Claudette Robinson of The Miracles stand along with former Supreme Scherrie Payne , Singers Martha Reeves and Valerie Simpson and songwriter Janie Bradford. A video featuring Simpson, Mickey, Holland-Dozier-Holland and Smokey talking about their compositions with Simpson on the piano playing beautifully. “I was so nervous” Simpson said in the video about being overwhelmed by the number of talent the worked at the label. “I didn’t know I had love around.” Simpson played and led the fellas with medleys of The Four Tops’ “Baby I Need Your Loving” and “The Temptations “My Girl”
Stevie returned to perform a Funky soulful rendition of his classic “Higher Ground” which featured a soulful call and response between him and the show’s background vocalist. He then spoke about working with his 1st wife Syretta Wright and how he felt about losing her and dedicated his performance of their composition of Never Dreamed You’d Leave In Summer to her memory as well as to the Motown acts, musicians and executives who passed away including The Supremes founder Florence Ballard, Tammi Terrell, Edwin Star, Junior Walker, Barney Ales, Rick James, Teena Marie, Levi Stubbs, Lawerence Payton, Renaldo Obie Benson, Paul Williams, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Melvin Franklin, Richard Street, Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, Norman Whitfield and The Funk Brothers.
After the president of The Grammy Awards spoke about Motown’s legacy, Ne-Yo took the stage to perform 3 of his Motown classics which included DeBarge’s I Like It, The Jackson 5ive’s I’ll Be There and Lionel Richie’s All Night Long (All Night). Like Ciara, Ne-Yo did those Motown Icons justice with his dancing and singing. During the performance of Richie’s top charting classic, Ne-Yo walked off the stage and dance with Diana Ross and kissed her hand before bowing to Berry Gordy. (I know that MJ was smiling from heaven with pride to see an artist who looked up to him dancing with his crush).
The Diana Ross segment began with videos from her days as the lead singer of The Supremes followed by several of her solo performances including her performance in Lady Sings The Blues and before you knew it, The Boss began to sing the Theme From Mahagony sitting next to Gordy while holding his hand before she walked onto the stage and sang a medely of hits from the Lady Sings The Blues soundtrack. “I’m very honored to be nominated for my role in lady sings the blues” the boss told the crowd before performing Holiday’s classics “Good Morning Heartache” and “My Man” which for the latter playfully teased and flirted with the father of her eldest daughter by talking about the number of women he dated and smashed and kissed him on the lips. She also led Berry on stage who read a speech about his dream to make music for everybody to enjoy. “My dream was to make music for all people. My dream come true. I wanna thank all of you and your parents and their grandparents all around the world. Thanks those unsung heros who lived and died to make Motown what it is today. I Love you.
Stevie then closed the show with a live performance of his classic Signed Sealed Delivered I’m Yours.
The program was nice, but there are many things that could have made it more better
- Having the inclusion of The Temptations and The Four Tops perform. Otis Williams and Abdul Duke Fakir are the only suriving members of their respected groups and it wasn’t right that the groups didn’t perform. Especially since The Temptations won Motown’s 1st Grammy Award for Cloud Nine 50 years ago.
- Claduette Robinson performing on stage. Though she was an original member of The Mircales that included her ex-husband Smokey and her late cousin Bobby, Claudette is the true 1st lady of Motown due to her being the 1st female singer to sign with the label. I felt that being that she and Smokey are the only surviving members of The Miracles alive, Claudette should have performed with her ex during the Miracles medley.
- No mention of The Marvelettes. I’m really tired of Motown specials not including and inviting the surviving members of the group who gave the label it’s 1st # 1 Pop hit with Please Mr. Postman. It’s bad enough that it took the label nearly 43 years to give them their gold record, but to constantly not invite them to attend or perform at any of the label’s specials is tired and it needs to stop. I also didn’t like how Gladys Horton’s picture wasn’t featured in the memorial tribute
- The Jacksons not being on the show. I loved how Ne-Yo paid homage to The Jackson 5ive, but it would have nice had they performed in honor of their brother Michael who was mentioned in the memorial tribute. They’re still selling out shows and it would have brought many of their fans closure. Plus Ne-Yo and The Jacksons could have performed along with El and Bunny DeBarge who should have been on the show as well.
- The J-Lo tribute. They could of had other singers perform with J-Lo at the tribute. Example Alicia Keys could have performed her rendition of Gladys Knight & The Pips (who also should have been represented) on the tribute. J-Lo did a bit too much booty shaking.
- Representation of White Artists. Smokey always talks about Motown being a family and how Motown is global. Well Singers Chris Clark and Teena Marie should have been represented by White female singers who can sing. Example The producers could have had Christina Aguleria perform a tribute to both singers and she and Johnny Gill a Motown legend could have performed the classic duet Fire And Desire which Johnny remake with Coko of SWV
- More songwriters being represented. I love Holland-Dozier-Holland and Valerie Simpson who is doing a wonderful job honoring her late husband and writing partner Nick Ashford, it would have been nice to see songwriters Barrett Strong and Pamela Sawyer being represented. They wrote several hits for the label.
- The 90’s era. After Berry Gordy sold Motown in 1988, the label still managed to crank out hits with a new generation of artists including Johnny Gill, Shanice Wilson, The Good Girls, MC Trouble, The Boys, Today Jason Weaver and Queen Latifah. It would have been nice had they been there to perform
- The Andantes and The Surviving Funk Brothers performing. The Andantes and The Funk Brothers was Motown’s backbone and it would have been great to see them performing with the Motown 60 Anniversary band.
- Mary Wilson being featured on videos. It would have been great to see Mary perform a medley of hits with the younger artist. Especially since she was the only original member to stay with the group until they disbanded.
- Martha Reeves performance. It was reported that Martha Reeves had performed but her performance was edited out. Miss Martha and The Vandellas’s classic Dancing In The Streets was named the anthem of Motown and while I’m not sure what song she performed, but her performance shouldn’t have been edited
- Lack of mention of Kim Weston and The Velvelttes. Kim Weston scored hits with Motown as a solo artist and with Marvin Gaye. It would have been nice to see Kim perform live along with The Velvelettes who are still performing sold out shows around the world. This is how I feel the Motown 60 Special could have been better. I’m aware that it’s impossible to squeeze a lot of things into a 2 hour special, but the special could have been 3 hours. I love Motown and it’s legacy, but I would love for future specials to be more inclusive. Da-Professor’s Lounge will be hosting a Motown tribute on it’s podcast this summer. Strive for Excellence.