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Motown alumni celebrate "Hitsville" documentary in Royal Oak

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup, @GraffonMusic on Twitter

Posted: Saturday, August 24, 2019

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ROYAL OAK -- Hitsville came home on Friday night, Aug. 22. At least on screen.

About 20 Motown Records alumni, performers and behind-the-scenes staffers hosted by the Motown Museum, turned out for a private screening of "Hitsville: The Making of Motown" at the Emagine theater the night before the documentary debuts on Showtime. Part of this year's 60th anniversary celebration, the gathering had the feel of a low-key class reunion -- albeit of a class that made some of the greatest and most impactful music in history.

"The sound of Motown is just unmatchable, and we are very proud of being part of such a significant era in music," Carolyn Gill of the Velvelettes, who came to the screening with groupmate Bertha McNeal, said. "We should be celebrating it any time, and this is Motown 60 as well."

Paul Riser, Motown's famed orchestra arranger, added that, "We did the work for the love of doing it, not for the money or anything. We just enjoyed it so much."

Riser and the Velvelettes were joined by what Motown Museum CEO Robin Terry called "a real solid home town crowd that included Claudette Robinson of the Miracles -- in town already for a family funeral -- Vandellas Annette Helton and Rosalind Holmes, Joe Billingslea of the Contours, Funk Brothers guitarist Dennis Coffey and Jackie Hicks of the Andantes. Songwriters George Ivy "Jo" Hunter and Melvin Moi also attended, along with label executive Miller London, recording engineer Russ Terrana. The Vandellas, London and Robinson were also interviewed in the film.

Current Motown Records General Manager Marc Byers also came in from Los Angeles to help host the event and introduce the "Hitsville."

The crowd was clearly enteratained and at times moved by the hour-and-50-minute film, directed by British-born brothers Ben and Gabe Turner. Particular favorite moments included a long segment about the making of the Temptations' iconic hit "My Girl," Little Richards' energetic appearance, recollection of racism during the Motortown Revue's travels through the deep South and company founder Berry Gordy Jr.'s declaration that he wanted "to make some money, to make some music and get some girls."

The alumni also got a laugh out of watching the film participants stumble through the "Motown Company Song" during the end credits.

"There's a good vibe to the film," Coffey, whose guitar licks for the Temptations "Cloud Nine" and "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" were heard during the film, said afterwards. "Everyone involved told a good story about Berry's vision and how it came to fruition." London, whose eight hours of interviews with the filmmakers turned into a few minutes in the final cut, added that, "I thought it's the first time I've ever seen the story told so right about Berry and what he did here. It's impossible to tell it all in two hours, but they did a good job.

Following the screening the alumni and other guests partied at the nearby Hamlin Corner, where a DJ spun a Motown playlist as "Hitsville" played, silently, on video screens.

The "Hitsville" documentary premieres at 9 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 24, on Showtime. Motown's 60th anniversary celebration, meanwhile, continues with a weekend of events next month, including a Motown Gospel Concert on Sept. 21 at Detroit World Outreach, a Hitsville Honors concert -- featuring the Temptations, the Four Tops, Mary Wilson of the Supremes, Martha Reeves, Big Sean, KEM and Ne-Yo -- on Sept. 22 at Orchestra Hall, and a Soul In One Celebrity Golf Classic outing on Sept. 23. Details can be found at motownmuseum.org.

Web Site: www.motownmuseum.org

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