By Margaret Hicks
Motown the Musical is on its way to the Tulsa Performing Arts Center’s Chapman Hall, March 14-19, 2017. Tickets are on sale now. Motown the Musical is Berry Gordy, Jr.’s incredible, and inspiring story. Gordy, age 87, is the founder of the Motown record label and its subsidiaries, which for decades was the highest-earning African-American business. According to CBS Sunday Morning it is “More than a Broadway show. A celebration of music that transformed America!”
In Gordy’s 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved, he said he was often asked, “How did you do it? How did you make it work at a time when so many barriers existed for black people and black music?” Gordy said there were many answers to those questions but the base of them “was atmosphere.” Gordy created an atmosphere in which his people could experiment creatively, which gave them the courage to be bold and not afraid to make mistakes. “In fact, I sometimes encouraged mistakes” he said.
Berry Gordy The Visionary
Gordy’s progression from songwriter to publisher to producer appears to have been born out of need, rather than design. Songwriting was Gordy’s love. Protecting that love gave him the motivation for everything else he did in the early years of his career. “Producing the artists who sang my songs was the next logical step to making sure my songs were done the way I wanted. Publishing came about when I couldn’t get my songwriter’s royalties from a New York publisher. Protecting my songs was also the reason I got into publishing and eventually the record business.”
The Detroit Auto Assembly Line
Gordy took the concept of the automobile plant in which he worked to visualize how he wanted his business to be run. At the car factory, cars start out as a frame on one end of the conveyor belt, and by the time it gets to the end of the belt it is a brand-new car. He applied that concept to his business in relation to the artists, the songs, and the records. He created a place where people could come in one door, off the street, as an unknown and walk out another door as a star.
In Gordy’s company, nicknamed “Hitsville U.S.A.” artists multi-tasked. They sang background on each other’s sessions, or played the tambourine or clapped their hands. Any employee who could carry a tune or keep a beat was used. Martha Reeves is an example. Reeves was a secretary who later became lead vocalist with Martha and the Vandellas. Gordy is still true to form. Some of the men, women, and children in this production perform more than one role. Tavia Riveé is an example. The Oklahoma Eagle caught up with Tavia Riveé on Thursday, Feb. 23. Riveé plays Gordy’s mother and Marry Wilson, one of the original Supremes.
Riveé, 31, grew up hearing the Motown sound in her home; it was her parents’ music. She said “When the 25th anniversary happened I don’t think I was born yet!” That was 1983, 34 years ago; Riveé put it in perspective, “The music is timeless.”
The show just left L.A. after playing for two weeks. She said Gordy was frequently in the audience, as was Susanne de Passe, Mary Wilson and Smokey Robinson. She said “It was kind of crazy and surreal, because even as somebody younger, I know who these legends are, and to see them and meet them personally and have them give feedback on the show is just incredible and an honor!”
Some of Riveé’s credits include Hairspray, Seussical, and All Shook Up.
About The Show
Of the show, Riveé said “It’s a goodtime…as a performer I really enjoy doing the show and I love that the audiences are having so much fun. It is not your standard musical that people sit and watch. We ask that the audience participate because this is everyone’s music and so it is really, really exciting to see the audience participating and getting feed-back and enjoying the music as much as we enjoy performing it.