I’ve Got Sunshine on a Cloudy Day at Detroit’s Motown Museum

Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan where it all began (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

The Motown Museum in Detroit, Michigan, where it all began (photo by Sheila Scarborough)

Step, step to the left. Step, step to the right. Channel your inner Temptations smooth moves and footwork.

“I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day. When it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May. I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way? My girl!”

There we were, a gaggle of Motown Museum visitors from all over the U.S. plus a few from Canada, convinced by our lively tour guide to try a few dance steps and belt out part of “My Girl” in the converted garage on Detroit’s West Grand Avenue that was the Motown record label’s famed Studio A, where so many hits were sung and recorded.

It was my first visit to Michigan and my first to a resurgent Detroit, and although I only had one day to explore the Motor City, I knew that the birthplace of Motown was one of my gotta go, must-see stops.

The modest home that is now a museum was where ambitious Berry Gordy, Jr. parlayed an $800 loan from his family into millions of dollars of musical gems like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Tracks of My Tears,” “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Heat Wave,” and Marvin Gaye’s whole album “What’s Going On.”

Gordy and his family lived on the second floor of the house, and today you can see where they packaged up records for shipping while sitting at their plain 1960s dining room table.

One story after another flows from the snappy tour guides: how involved Smokey Robinson was with the very early days of the label, how Gordy’s parents moved to Detroit from the deep South in the 1920s (part of the Great Migration north to escape poverty and Jim Crow,) how the three original rotary dial telephones on the front office desk were each an incoming line “because they didn’t have Call Waiting then,” the tiny office filled with reel-to-reel tapes where Martha Reeves worked before she sang with the Vandellas, that Marvin Gaye’s duet partner Tammi Terrell was “Beyoncé before there was Beyoncé,” and the candy bar machine with those handles you pulled after putting in a coin and how they set it up so that Stevie Wonder could always find his favorite Baby Ruth bar by pulling a particular handle.

We were introduced to the extraordinary people behind the scenes who helped to create the magic….choreographer Cholly Atkins working with certain artists who couldn’t dance a lick, the Funk Brothers who backed one hit after another, Maxine Powell who taught elegance, deportment, and etiquette so that young people like Diana Ross and the Supremes would shine brightly during their 17 appearances on national TV’s “Ed Sullivan Show.”

Gordy moved the Motown offices away from Detroit to Los Angeles in the early 1970s (several tour group members from Detroit boo’d on cue when that was discussed) but the joyous, finger-snapping music lives on today. If you’re anywhere near Detroit, you have to go see it for yourself.

Here is the direct link to the Temptation’s “My Girl” video if you can’t see the embed box below.

Check the museum hours and operating schedule before you go; the last tour starts one hour before closing. Photography and video are not allowed inside the museum.

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