The Magic of Detroit’s Motown Museum: Human Nature’s Personal Tie to This Music Landmark
Posted by Andrew C on Monday, September 29th, 2014
One of the things the members of Human Nature are most proud of is getting to play a small role in keeping the spirit and legacy of Motown music alive. With every show—be it in Vegas, back home in Australia, or the small towns on the group’s recent U.S. tour—Andrew, Michael, Phil, and Toby get to connect with live audiences and share their passion for these songs that changed the world. Sometimes that means performing for fans who have loved Motown for decades. Other times, it means introducing this music to people who have never really experienced or absorbed it before, passing on “the spark” to a new generation. In this way, Human Nature and their band serve as ambassadors of sorts to the Motown Sound and one of the traveling extensions of the label’s historic Detroit roots.
With this in mind, the boys in Human Nature would be the first to tell you– if you love the Motown Show, do yourself a favor and make a pilgrimage to Detroit to see where it all started. Because, thankfully, you can actually visit the original, world famous recording home of Motown: “Hitsville USA.” Yes, that’s right, the somewhat nondescript house in which Berry Gordy hosted some of America’s greatest singers and musicians still stands today as a historical museum—and one of the very best tourist destinations in the American Midwest.
“The Motown Museum is just fantastic,” Phil Burton said following the band’s first visit to the landmark in 2012. “I mean, for the museum to be a place not just where they show what happened, but to be the actual building where it did happen—that’s just incredible. Because you know you’re standing on exactly the same spot where all these recordings were done. You’re seeing the same equipment that they used and the offices where all the work was done. It’s a really special feeling.”
Located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard near the Detroit neighborhood of New Center, the house was a photographer’s studio when Berry Gordy bought it in 1959 as a home and headquarters for his new music label, Tamla Records. Within a year, Gordy would launch a second label in the same space—a little upstart called Motown. The old photo studio space became a recording studio, while other rooms in the house became offices for Gordy and his growing team of talent developers, administrators, public relations staff, and publishing and finance associates.
As Motown exploded to prominence in the mid ‘60s, Gordy finally moved his own living arrangements to a separate Detroit mansion, while Hitsville itself expanded to several other houses on West Grand. Still, through it all, the original Studio A remained the most important room in R&B from 1959 all the way to 1972, when Gordy finally moved his whole operation to Los Angeles.
It was Gordy’s older sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, who successfully re-opened the Hitsville building as the Motown Museum back in 1985. And because she was there from the beginning, her role in presenting the studio as it originally looked became instrumental in the museum’s lasting appeal and authenticity. Edwards passed away in 2011 at the age of 91. Thankfully, though, her diligent efforts live on, as the magic of the original Motown experience is still maintained for fans from around the world to enjoy.
For Human Nature, when the dream of visiting Hitsville was finally realized in 2012, it proved to be special for more than the predictable goose-pimple inspiring reasons.
“The keeper of the Museum presented us with these Motown pins saying we’re now part of the Motown alumni,” recalls Andrew Tierney. “It was a really cool thing. It’s going to be a keepsake for me.”
“I think they also actually put up one of our print interviews in the museum, as well,” Toby Allen added. “So I think we’re physically part of the museum now– very cool.”
Being a part of the Motown Museum means being surrounded by legends—Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson 5, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips… the list goes on and on. All of them recorded here, honed their craft here, laughed, cried, and sang their hearts out here.
The museum includes a treasure trove of original photos, artifacts, clothing, instruments—even the control room is exactly as it was. There are regular special exhibits, as well. Right now, it’s “Girl Groups: The Grit, The Glamour, and The Glory”—which unearths never been seen relics from the heyday of the Supremes, Marvelettes, Vandellas, Velvelettes, and the Andantes.
Throughout the fall and winter months, the Motown Museum is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 6pm, with the last tour starting at 5pm each day. If you love Motown, plan a trip and make a day of it. Keep the legacy alive.