The birthplace of Motown almost sold out upon reopening to the public after a four-month closure. Here’s what to know before you go, and a curated playlist to get you in the groove.
The Detroit building where Berry Gordy Jr. built his music empire reopened its doors to the public last Wednesday. It had been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
And visitors flocked to Hitsville, U.S.A.
“We were almost sold out today,” Robin Terry, chairwoman and CEO of the Motown Museum, told reporters through a “Hitsville” face mask. “So, it seems to be working for our visitors and still meeting our safety and security expectations.”
Speaking to USA Today, married Florida couple Dave and Mary Mandeville described making a beeline back to their native Detroit last week to visit Hitsville upon hearing it would be back up and running.
“It was a very worthwhile trip,” said Dave Mandeville. The couple said they quickly adapted to the various health measures the museum instituted before reopening, many of which keep in tune with the institution’s overall theme.
Before entering the building, for example, guests are required to fill out a health questionnaire and undergo a temperature check. If they pass, museum representatives provide them with a sticker to wear that reads: “Signed, Sealed, Delivered. I’m Good,” referencing the Stevie Wonder hit.
Once inside, no more than 10 visitors at a time are given a guided tour of the historic building on West Grand Boulevard. To help maintain the recommended social distance, record-shaped decals are scattered on the floor throughout the museum. They read: “Stop in the Name of Love. Stay 6FT Apart.”
One other big change is that still photography, which had long been forbidden inside the museum, is not only permitted, but encouraged.
“That’s probably the most celebrated change at Motown Museum,” Terry said. “For a long time, you couldn’t take pictures here. And we said, ‘What better time than now to allow our patrons, our fans, to come and capture their moments at Hitsville and share them with the world.”
Browse some snapshots from inside the museum:
Gordy launched the Motown record label in Detroit in 1959. His late sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, founded the museum in the former Hitsville headquarters in 1985. In addition to Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye, many others recorded hits there before Motown moved to California in 1972.
And now that the Motown Museum has officially joined the list of Detroit institutions that have reopened to the public, you might be thinking of taking your own baby love (or family, or whomever) into the D to see Hitsville for yourself, as well as the other top-tier museums and arts and culture institutions the city has to offer.
We’ve put together a Motown playlist made up of classics straight off Berry Gordy’s label and from some acts that adopted the Motown sound for themselves. It’ll put you in a perfectly groovin’ headspace to take in all the sights and sounds of the iconic Motown Museum. Throw it on during the drive into Detroit and you’ll be living for the city in no time.
PART 1: THE MOTOWN LABEL
These songs come directly off Berry Gordy’s Motown label — they’re some of the sounds that set the foundation for a burgeoning subgenre of American pop music that was also an irresistible force of social and cultural change. Read more about the history of the sound that changed America at the Motown Museum’s website.
1. Marvin Gaye – ‘Let’s Get It On’
2. The Temptations – ‘My Girl’
3. The Supremes – ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’
4. Stevie Wonder – ‘Signed, Sealed, Delivered’
5. Martha and the Vandellas – ‘Dancing in the Street’
PART 2: THE MOTOWN SOUND
That exciting Motown sound wasn’t exclusive to Berry Gordy’s record label. Legendary Michigan artists who never signed on to Motown — like Aretha Franklin, whom Gordy called “part of [his] family” — also picked up some of the subgenre’s characteristic style. And artists from all over the country (and even across the pond, in the case of The Foundations) followed suit. Get to know more about the Motown sound here.
6. The Foundations – ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’
7. Aretha Franklin – ‘Respect’
8. Erma Franklin – ‘Piece of My Heart’
9. Etta James – ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’
10. Al Green – ‘Let’s Stay Together’
BONUS TRACKS: MARY WELLS, ‘THE QUEEN OF MOTOWN’
Mary Wells became recognized as “The Queen of Motown” as one of the label’s first superstar singers helping to define the sound in the early 1960s. However, she left the label in 1964 at the height of her popularity after having problems with Motown over her original recording contract, which she had signed at the age of 17. Read The Washington Post’s 1982 interview with Wells for more insight into her incredible life and career.
11. Mary Wells – ‘My Guy’
12. Mary Wells – ‘You Beat Me to the Punch’
13. Mary Wells – ‘The One Who Really Loves You’
The Associated Press contributed to this story.