Motown: A Game-Changer For Black Americans

Guests

Martha Reeves, lead singer, Martha And The Vandellas
Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum

Fifty years ago, when black musicians had a difficult time breaking into a music business that was divided by race, Motown changed everything. Catchy dance tunes blending R&B, gospel, swing and pop from Berry Gordy's Detroit-based record company caught on nationwide.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. Im Neal Conan in Washington.

(Soundbite of song, "Heatwave")

MARTHA AND THE VANDELLAS: (Singing) Whenever I'm with you, something inside starts burning, and I fill with desire. Could it be a devil in me, or is this way that I'm supposed to be? It's like a heat wave burning in my heart. I can't keep from crying. It's tearing me apart.

CONAN: By 1963, the vast majority of American kids could hear exactly that much of "Heatwave" and identify the record label. Just four years after Barry Gordy established Motown, the Detroit studio had transformed American music: Martha and the Vandellas, the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, Junior Walker, Stevie Wonder, the list goes on and on and on.

Tomorrow night, in honor of Black History Month, the White House holds a gala to celebrate music that greatly influenced American culture. Martha Reeves will join us in just a moment.

How do you gauge Motown's influence on America? What was your Motown moment? Give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

And Martha Reeves joins us today from member station WDET in Detroit. Nice to have you with us today.

Ms. MARTHA REEVES (Lead Singer, Martha and the Vandellas): It's a pleasure to be here.

CONAN: And it must be quite an honor for Motown to be recognized that way at the White House.

Ms. REEVES: I'm so excited. I hope I can contain myself during this interview. What a thrill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: What was the first time you remember being aware of Motown Records?

Ms. REEVES: When I was appearing at the 20 Grand. I had won an amateur contest, and my reward was three nights during the happy hour, which is like between 7:00 and 11:00, at a place called the 20 Grand, which is no longer in existence here in Detroit.

But on my last night, Sunday night, a gentleman from Hitsville, USA -that's how he represented himself - a man named William Stevenson(ph) gave me a card and said: You have talent, come to Hitsville, USA. And I took the card backstage, and I recognized a few names on there because I had heard about Mary Wells. I had heard about Marv Johnson. I had heard about Eddie Holland, and the Contours were not yet on the label yet, but I was hoping that I could meet the Miracles because they were talking about this guy Smokey, who had a wife in the group, Claudette. But all of these names were on the back of that card, and I was excited to go.

So I went the next morning. Instead of taking the card and making an appointment, I showed up.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: And to everybody's surprise, William Stevenson, better known as Mickey, said: What are you doing here? And I said: I don't - didn't you give me a card last night and say come here? But I didn't know protocol. I didn't know you were supposed to call for an audition.

And they held auditions every third Thursday. So here I was on the first of the month. I'm going: Well, what should I do? He said: Answer the phone. I'll be right back.

This is my first knowledge of Motown Records. This is my first introduction. And I stayed all day. At the end of the day, I was asked to come back, and this continued until I finally did a demonstration record, got the attention of Barry Gordy, the owner, and had a record released with the Delphis, who were named after - we changed the name from Delphis to Vandellas.

CONAN: That's an interesting story. There is also - there were so many people. You mentioned a few of those names that you were interested in meeting. You got to meet all of them. You got to work with most of them.

Ms. REEVES: Well, as an A&R secretary, which I became for nine months, I gave that job to three girls from secretarial college, boarded a bus with eight other acts and a 12-piece band, the Choker Campbell Band. And Stevie Wonder was little at the time. We don't call him little anymore.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: No, I don't think so.

Ms. REEVES: But Stevie Wonder was on that tour as well. So it was quite a 94 one-night adventure.

CONAN: And what was it like to - there were so many distinctive voices and so many distinctive talents there, yet there was a sameness to the sound that was instantly identifiable. What do you think was the common denominator?

Ms. REEVES: The magic of the Motown sound was the musicians who recorded the music never traveled with me or any of the other acts that I know of. Well, on special occasions they would appear. Like the Funk Brothers did go to England with us. But they were referred to as the Funk Brothers, and they recorded for everybody.

And they had the unique talent of playing different for each act. You knew the voices. You could tell the intros of the songs and know who exactly that it was. And that's one thing that I take pride in, being with a company who had not only lyrics that were - you could sing in church or in mixed company, you didn't have to send anybody out of the room to listen to the Motown sound. And we had stories that we told that could touch the heart, to change things, to make things better for everybody who listened. And that was the joy of being on the Motown sound, being with the Motown sound.

CONAN: Let's introduce another voice into the conversation. Joining us now is Bob Santelli. He's here in Studio 3A. He's executive director of the Grammy Museum. He'll also be at the White House tomorrow, and he's leading students in a discussion about Motown's legacy. Nice to have you with us today too.

Mr. BOB SANTELLI (Executive Director, Grammy Museum): Pleasure.

CONAN: And she mentioned the Funk Brothers. It was also a genius of recording. Plugging the electric bass directly into the console made all those records sound - gave them a distinct sound.

Ms. REEVES: I had the benefit of being one of the first recording artists, and the bass was an upright bass until they talked James Jameson(ph) into using the Fender. It was basically upright for (unintelligible) "These Memories," "Heatwave," "Love Makes Me Do Foolish Things." Quite a few of our first recording were done with an upright bass.

Mr. SANTELLI: You know, it's interesting because we refer to Motown as the Motown sound. And that term, sound, has been used a lot in popular music history: the San Francisco sound in the mid-'60s. There really wasn't a San Francisco sound. But there really was a Motown sound. And part of that reason was, as Martha says, you know, you had the same musicians there creating a common-denominator bottom, if you will, with James Jameson, Benny Benjamin(ph), Earl VanDyke(ph), others who gave the Motown sound a consistency and yet was very, very unique.

So truly, when you talk about a Motown sound, there really was one. And yet on top of that there was a uniqueness as well.

CONAN: And many different voices. As writers, yes, Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote a lot of the hits, but so did Smokey Robinson and other people too.

Mr. SANTELLI: Yes, Smokey certainly did. I mean, he was - in the early days, you know, some of the songs that he wrote - "Tears of A Clown," "Tracks of My Tears" and these are just such absolute standards, landmark songs. And it really helped Motown penetrate the pop charts in the early 1960s, something that, you know, black music hadn't done very consistently before that.

But boy, when Motown hits, it was irresistible. You could not deny them a place in American music history in the early '60s.

CONAN: Martha Reeves, I wanted to ask you: Was there a moment you began to realize that this company you were with was a lot more than Hitsville, USA, that it was contributing something unique to American culture?

Ms. REEVES: From the very first day of my arrival, I noticed that there was always a line, people wanting to be on the label, and people wanting to be touched or discovered by Barry Gordy.

He alone can be credited for the continuity of the sound and his choice of musicians, his choice of releases, his choice of artist. He had a way of looking at you kind of like he could maybe shorten one of his eyes and kind of glare into your spirit and your soul. He kind of knew talented people. And he can be rewarded for having over 30 acts come out of one company and all become super-stardom status.

And it's a pleasure watching not only people like my cohorts perform the Motown sound, because we were trained for stage, but it's also great to listen to because all of the music was profound and recorded by jazz musicians. All the guys that I can name are members of the Jazz Hall of Fame.

CONAN: We're talking with Martha Reeves, of course Martha and the Vandellas. Also with us is Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. We want to hear about your Motown moment. What do you think its contribution to American culture amounts to? 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. We'll start with Eileen(ph), and Eileen's with us from San Antonio.

EILEEN (Caller): Hi there.

CONAN: Hi.

EILEEN: I know that I was growing up in the Bronx in the '60s, and I was telling your screener that my uncle was a priest. So at Christmas it was always a joke as to what Bill might pick out for the various kids and whatnot.

And in '67, he gave me a portable record player and a stack of 45s from Motown, which number one, immediately told me he hadn't done the shopping, but that was okay.

(Soundbite of laughter)

EILEEN: I was good with the music. And it just occurred to me while I'm on hold, that it's almost, like, you know, when you win the youth, civil rights was going at the time, when you win the youth, the fight is kind of over. And I think the music did a lot to do that. Maybe the fight's not over, but it certainly brought a lot of us into awareness, and I think that's what it meant to me.

CONAN: Martha Reeves, a lot of those early hits were dance tunes, love songs, yet there was another message.

Ms. REEVES: Yes, and I have to remind myself to mention the fact that Smokey Robinson was one of the first entertainers that I ever appeared with who actually stood on stage and ordered the guys that were standing at the edge of the stage with those sawed-off baseball bats not to hit another person if they got up and danced to our music in Montgomery, Alabama.

And it was a step forward that no one anticipated, but it was very much needed because we had a segregated audience. And when Smokey made that announcement, the guys did stand back, and the people in the audience were allowed to get up and dance when they felt like it, when their spirit hit them. And when the music ended, no one could remember where they were sitting. And the next couple of engagements, we didn't have segregated audiences.

So I know not only that our music make you feel good, but we also had a message of equality. We had a message of actually enjoying music. And I don't think our music was designed for any particular people, any particular race or creed or color or age. It's just the sound of young America, and that's what was in our label, and that's what we take pride in.

CONAN: Bob Santelli, is this overstating it?

Mr. SANTELLI: No, not at all. As a matter of fact, when you think about the role that Motown played in the early 1960s, I've always looked at it as Berry Gordy presenting to America a great example of black artistic expression in the music, but also a sense of black capitalism and the opportunity to take the music, right from the very beginnings in the industry stage, and then give it to the rest of the people.

You know, there weren't a whole lot black record company owners in 1960 or '61. And Berry was able to do this and do it very well. And the fact that, as Martha said, you know, this music was absolutely colorblind, that white kids listened to it, Latino kids listen to it, black kids listen to it, it was accessible and immediate and it spoke to all races in America is an achievement that, to this day, is admirable.

CONAN: Eileen, do you still have those 45s?

EILEEN: No. I wish I did. But that's okay. I still get to listen to them.

CONAN: Thanks for...

EILEEN: And, you know, they're on the radio all the time. Thank God. God bless you all.

CONAN: They are on the radio all the time. Thanks very much for the call.

Here's a tweet from Tom Godell. My Motown moment is non-musical. They issued an LP of baseball stories by retired umpire Red Jones - pure baseball gold.

That's one that alluded by normally encyclopedic interest in both Motown and baseball. In any case, we're talking about Motown and its legacy for American culture. Our guests - you just heard Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. Also with us is Martha Reeves, of course, the lead singer of Martha and the Vandellas. If you'd like to join the conversation: 800-989-8255. Email us: talk@npr.org.

And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, coming to you from NPR News.

Let's go next to John, and John's on the line from Des Moines.

JOHN (Caller): Yes. Martha, it's an honor to speak with you.

Ms. REEVES: Hi, John.

JOHN: I would just like to touch on the social part of the whole soul music, which you can divide it up between the Memphis sound and the Detroit sound. But I remember as a teenager, with a six-transistor radio under my pillow all night long, listening to WLS in Chicago and KAAY in Little Rock and WHB in Kansas City. I could get those stations, and they played an awful lot of Motown music. And I - it just - it was so important in changing white people's attitude towards black people. And you were as important an ingredient in civil rights as Martin Luther King, Jr. was.

Ms. REEVES: Thank you.

JOHN: And I applaud you for that. It did work. It did count, and it certainly meant something.

But my Motown moment, I don't know if you remember this or not, but in Minneapolis, Minnesota in 1972 or three, I saw a concert where you opened, then Stevie Wonder came on and then The Rolling Stones played. And that was one of the best concerts I ever saw in my life. And I remember you leading Stevie Wonder out to the microphone. And it was just an indelible moment in my memory, and I remember it to this day. Bless you.

Ms. REEVES: Thank you so much. That was good to remember, and you brought fond memories back to me, too, because that was a part of my stage appearance, to always make sure that I had Stevie when I went onstage for finales or whenever he went on. And Clarence Paul was his music director and also the A&R assistant. And between the three of us, we had a real good relationship and a real good time getting Stevie onstage. And he - you know, and no one really wanted to follow him, and I'm glad that The Rolling Stones were able to...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: ...because he's a dynamite performer.

CONAN: I'm glad the Rolling Stones had to, as opposed to somebody else. I wonder, Bob Santelli, the caller was going through a litany of radio stations. He could have added a dozen more that people heard this music on. Incredibly important that these groups' commercial success put them in the top 40 format, that I don't think people remember its prevalence in those days and its importance to the music industry and to America.

Ms. REEVES: I got to commend the DJs, because some of them played our music in spite of what their program directors said to them. And on our very first album, we couldn't actually put our pictures, because if they had known they were black music or black singers, they might not have played them on some stations. So it took a while before we could actually appear on our covers.

CONAN: Hmm.

Ms. REEVES: But we made such a big difference and such an impact because of the DJs, and I got to thank them forever.

CONAN: Bob Santelli?

Mr. SANTELLI: Yeah. You know, I remember back when it wasn't so much top 40, because a lot of the stations - and I grew up in New Jersey and New York - would have the top 10 countdown, you know? And it was top 10, and there were always, in the early '60s, Motown songs in it.

CONAN: Motown and Beach Boys.

Mr. SANTELLI: That's right. And, you know, for, you know, a young kid growing up in that part of America at that time - Motown and, to a certain degree, The Beach Boys - were really the answer to British invasion. While we were just being swamped in '64 - in particular, Beatlemania - with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Searchers...

CONAN: Dave Clark Five.

Mr. SANTELLI: Dave Clark Five, all of whom paid homage to Motown and just loved that particular sound. The biggest things coming out of America at that time, aside from this rise of Bob Dylan on the outside, was Motown. And you could look to Motown as a - almost like a counterbalance to what the Brits were giving to us.

And, you know, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas and songs like "Heat Wave" and "Dancing in the Street" are so iconic. And for me, the key to Motown was how great they sounded on car radios, because I, too, had a transistor that many people knows little - miniature transistor radios that kids don't know what they are today. But on the car radio, boy, did they sound good. And I often wondered if Motown actually recorded that music so that it would sound good on car radios. It's something I hope to ask Berry.

CONAN: We're talking with Martha Reeves of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, and Bob Santelli of the Grammy Museum.

How do you gauge Motown's influence on America? What was your Motown moment? 800-989-8255. Drop us an email. The address is talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. Here's Junior Walker. It's TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: Right now, we're talking about the legacy of Motown. Our guests are Martha Reeves - a name you'll recognize, of course - from Martha and the Vandellas, and Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. Both will be at the White House tomorrow for an event that honors Motown's legacy. The Motown sound in performance at the White House will later be broadcast on PBS. That's going to be on March the 1st.

How do you gauge Motown's influence on America? What was your Motown moment? Email is: talk@npr.org. Our phone number: 800-989-8255.

We got this email from Cynthia in Eugene, Oregon: Wonderful memories. In the '60s, I lived in a convent boarding hall - boarding school. And the girls and nuns would line up in the hall and do "The Temptation Walk."

And this is from D.E. Stewart in New Jersey: Listening to Martha and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Streets," blaring outside Brown Chapel, Selma in the evenings of the Selma-Montgomery March.

And Martha Reeves, where you aware that your music was having that kind of an effect?

Ms. REEVES: Our music, Motown's music has had an effect on every movement and everything that happened from that moment it was discovered, from '59 on. It affected Detroit economically, because the first big record I heard from Motown was "Money," by Barrett Strong.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: And we had a recession similar to what we're going through now. We all needed money. And everybody was singing it. You could hear it piped up and down every street. And we used to have street dances, where blocked the neighborhood off and everybody put their record players - and the term 45 cracks me up because a child asked me once, he said, you all had guns?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: He thought 45s were actually revolvers. But he didn't know what records were, either. But they put their record players, not woofers and tweeters, but record players on their front porches, and it we'd play and feed each other and just dance and have a good time. So when I heard Marvin Gaye's, Ivy Hunter, the William Stevenson's "Dancing in the Street," that's where my mind went straight to how we used to have a real good time with each other just with music, and how "Money" was a big record in our neighborhood.

CONAN: Let's go next to Rick, and Rick's with us from Atlantic City.

RICK (Caller): Oh, hi. Thanks for taking my call. Martha, you and I have met a couple of times. I'm on the radio over here in - between Atlantic City and Wildwood, if you recall being in Wildwood a couple of years ago.

Ms. REEVES: Oh, yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: I love Wildwood. We did a street party. It was wonderful.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICK: That's exactly right. And, you know, listening to the conversation and being on the - I just got off the air, as a matter of fact. And every day, when I get off the air, I immediately switch it to this program because, well, I've had enough of music for the day.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICK: But talking about Motown and what it meant to America - and it's a lot like what I do in the air every day. And if I have to go from a doo-wop '50s song or any kind of rock and roll song from, like, the early days of rock and roll, and if I have to move into, like, a '70s song or something like that, a Motown song is a great transition, because it really does transcend all of those other songs and all that kind of music.

But also - and the same thing, Motown really transcended America. We were able to relate to music - black, white didn't matter anymore. All of a sudden, there was a sound that everybody could relate to. And it didn't matter if it was black music or white music. It wasn't that at all. It was just really good music that we go dance to and sing to, and it was just a good thing. And I really do think that Motown contributed not just to a wonderful thing in the music world, but to the civil rights movement that everybody started having - particularly white people, I think, started having a different idea about who black people were and what was going on at the time. So...

CONAN: Well, Rick...

RICK: ...and I could tell you that Motown has brought a lot of joy to a lot of people, including me.

CONAN: Well, Rick, we...

Ms. REEVES: Rick, you're one of the people that I thank for keeping us alive, because you play us, and thank you so much for that.

CONAN: And we wish you the best of luck, so long as you stay off the air between 2:00 and 4:00 Eastern Time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICK: Well, I'm off at 3:00 Eastern Time, but I'm with you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Well, we hope that last hour dies, Rick.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: Oh, no, don't do that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RICK: By the way, Martha, congratulations on going on to the White House. That's wonderful. I think that's just terrific.

Ms. REEVES: Thank you. I'm thrilled.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, Rick. Appreciate it.

RICK: Thank you. Thanks a lot.

CONAN: Email from Julie in Fenton, Michigan: As a little girl, my mother and I would go to Hitsville to buy records for my parents' TV and record shop. I remember going into the stacks to choose 45s and hearing the din of the rehearsals in the basement while we loaded our box with 45s. It was quite a thrill picking out records in the busy house. I am so happy to share this memory today.

Do you remember that basement, Martha?

Ms. REEVES: Yes, I do, and it was the first house music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES It was Berry Gordy's house.

CONAN: It was Berry Gordy's house.

Ms. REEVES: Yes, it was.

CONAN: Here's an email from Eric: I'm 22 from Lansing, Michigan. I'm a musician who spent the last year playing abroad. When foreign musicians compliment me on my feel, I remember the debt I owe to Motown. My youngest memories are of listening to the oldies station in the car seat as a child for my whole life. These songs are timeless. Any young musicians, especially in the rhythm section, should really study these hits. Just studying the bass line to "Heard It Through the Grapevine" gave me so much. Motown music is the best. It makes me feel good, and it gives me pride to be from Michigan.

In regard to that, Martha, do you remember your first time you got a chance to tour in Europe?

Ms. REEVES: Yes, I do. I was there before the Motown Review, before Dusty Springfield used her influence to get all of us there. But we toured with Georgie Fame when his hit record "I Say Yeh, Yeh" was riding the charts. And he allowed me to come over. I was - I didn't have the Vandellas. I had to go on my own. And I toured with Georgie Fame 40 one-nighters. It was just wonderful, the reception to our music. But when the Motown Review went over because of Dusty Springfield and the "Ready Steady Go!" special, we were so - we got the same reception that The Beatles got in New York. It was wonderful to make the exchange. Used to have to exchange artists. When an English act came to America, we'd have to send an American act to England. And when we arrived, there was -they stopped Heathrow Airport. They had flowers and banners from the Tamla Motown Appreciation Society. Thanks to Dave Godin, God rest his soul, we were very well-received. So I remember it very well.

CONAN: Tamla. We always think of Motown, Bob Santelli. There were associated labels as well as Motown, the major one.

Mr. SANTELLI: That's right. And yet there was still a consistency to the sound. So back then you didn't pay attention so much to whether it was on Tamla or Gordy or Motown. But the fact of the matter is, again, that sound, that today, as one of our emailers said, you know, he learns from that. I think anyone who's a musician today who wants to understand American music and understand great American music needs to go back to those records. And the hope is, you know, with some of these programs we're doing at the Grammy Museum and other programs going on with music museums around the country, the idea is to get this music in the hands of young people so they can experience it because it's as accessible to them as it was when we were young, and to keep this music alive to the point where it's meaningful in people's lives like it was 40, 50 years ago.

CONAN: And...

Ms. REEVES: I had a thrill just recently in Baltimore, Maryland. We appeared for the veterans, and the theater was filled with veterans. And we sang a ballad and all of the audience sang. And they didn't cry, but they helped us a lot because we went to war with them. I was told by a lot of the veterans where they would put their Motown records after -they'd stand in line at the PX all day to get the first Motown releases. They'd put their records away in their foot lockers and come back sometimes after active duty, and their lockers would be invaded, and they would have taken - you know, which is not a good thing, but that's how much they loved our music and how we went through the war with them.

We appeared a lot during the Vietnam War in Japan and other surrounding areas and knew a little bit - had a closer view of what our veterans actually go through, as far as wars are concerned, and we were actively involved. And not only that Robin Williams called our name out in "Good Morning, Vietnam" and played "Nowhere to Run," but we've had other songs in different movies, and we were a big part of the wars too. So I commend the veterans for keeping us alive too.

CONAN: Here's an email from Mark: As a young teenager in the early '70s in Findlay, Ohio, I would do my early morning paper route while listening to CKLW out of Windsor, Ontario...

Ms. REEVES: Yeah.

CONAN: ...on a small transistor radio. They played tons of Motown, and that's what got me through my paper route.

Let's go to Greg, and Greg is with us from Grand Rapids in Michigan. Greg, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

GREG (Caller): Hi. Ms. Reeves, I just wanted to thank - you were talking about the veterans. And I remember back in 1965, going to basic training and just being totally lost, just totally lost. And everybody wanted you to say something or do something or, you know, and make all these decisions. And you haven't had any sleep in 24 hours and you haven't...

Ms. REEVES: You're away from home.

GREG: ...food and you're - yes, you're away from home. And we got back to the barracks that night, and somebody broke out a radio and turned on the radio - oh, "Dancing in the Street" came on. And it was like somebody turned on the lights, you know? I was - everybody started dancing. And it was total craziness. Everybody was singing at the top of their lungs. They thought we were going nuts. But it's the memories like that make Motown really special to all of us.

Ms. REEVES: I have some of that same joy every time we perform. And we do about 32 weeks a year now. And every time we get to "Dancing in the Street," total chaos. I love it. People remember when it was actually the hit of the time. And it still has the tone of happiness and joy. So I still enjoy performing it and I look forward to it. We're on our way to Iowa right after Washington, D.C., so we'll have a good time in Iowa.

GREG: Yeah, I hope so. Well, thank you very much. And God bless you.

Ms. REEVES: God bless you too.

CONAN: Greg, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it. We're talking with Martha Reeve, of course Martha and the Vandellas; and with Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, which is coming to you from NPR News.

Here's another email. This one from Judy in Kansas City who grew up in Grand Rapids. In the '60s my fondest memory is in high school, hearing the boys harmonizing in the stairwell. One of those boys was Al Green. Thanks to Motown...

Ms. REEVES: Al...

CONAN: ...for bringing all types of people together. So Al Green, of course, on Hi label, not in the Motown label but - and...

Ms. REEVES: And from Michigan.

CONAN: ...and from Michigan, though...

Ms. REEVES: Yes.

CONAN: ...but Bob Santelli, yeah, people knew Motown, but sure, there was a Hi(ph) Records label style and of course (unintelligible) had its own special style too.

Mr. SANTELLI: That's right.

Ms. REEVES: Don't forget (unintelligible)...

Mr. SANTELLI: Oh, yeah. There are actually quite a bit. But, clearly, when people think of the '60s, they often talked about the early '60s and mid-'60s as being, quote, "owned by Motown." And of course the later '60s where (unintelligible) out of Memphis comes out, and the two complimented each other terrifically, different sounds.

CONAN: You had Aretha from Detroit playing in Memphis - recording in Memphis.

Mr. SANTELLI: That's right. And then you have Muscle Shoals(ph) in Alabama. So there was really an explosion of great African-American music in this period that's really been unrivalled since.

CONAN: Let's go next...

Ms. REEVES: Two big thrills two big thrills was to have our song put in the capsule for the Library of Congress, "Dancing in The Street" along with a couple of songs, Stevie Wonder's and Marvin Gaye's. And to be declared our own folklore by the Smithsonian Institute - those are two big thrills and two accomplishments that I'll always treasure.

CONAN: John's on the line from Gross Pointe just outside of Detroit.

JOHN (Caller): Yeah, hi. What an extraordinary opportunity. Hi, Martha.

Ms. REEVES: Hi.

JOHN: Hi. I was at the Motown Revue in 1966 on Woodward Avenue at the Fox Theater.

Ms. REEVES: Fox Theater, wow.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: And I was sitting in the front as you faced the stage. I was sitting in the lower, very close to the stage, second row.

Ms. REEVES: Mm-hmm.

JOHN: I think I was one of the few white people in the audience. And I'll tell you, it was - I couldn't believe what a - I can't remember the number of stars that were there, but all I remember mainly was Stevie Wonder. And he came out and they had - they had handlers, because he played so ferociously that they had to keeping pushing the drums underneath his beating sticks, if you recall.

Ms. REEVES: Yes. He played every instrument on that stage.

JOHN: Yes, I know. And I just - I walked out of there that night - you know, Motown - I enjoyed the Beach Boys and the West Coast sound and the European sound. But Motown had something emotionally that was quite different and quite special and wonderful. But that night was just remarkable, that you could assemble that much talent on the stage. If you - do you remember David Whitehouse and the white group that was -that they were signed up by Motown?

Ms. REEVES: There's always been a white group on Motown. The Balladeers is what you're referring to...

JOHN: Well, there was another one from Grosse Pointe that was just briefly on (unintelligible) that night...

Ms. REEVES: Rare Earth was also - Rare Earth was also on Motown.

JOHN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Well, okay. I guess there were a couple - but anyway, I wanted to thank you very much for all the wonderful time, and Motown is just extraordinary. I still have all the LPs and much many of 45s.

Ms. REEVES: You forgot to remember that it was $2 show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOHN: Is that all it was?

Ms. REEVES: Two dollars admission.

JOHN: Oh, my God. I had no idea.

Ms. REEVES: Yeah.

JOHN: That was tremendous and I - it was wonderful. Thanks so much for the good times.

CONAN: Thanks very much.

JOHN: Thank you.

CONAN: Martha Reeves, did you feel betrayed when Barry Gordy decided to move Motown to Los Angeles?

Ms. REEVES: I was not betrayed. My contract was up. I was surprised because I had just had a son. And when I called to find out if I had any more assignments or when was my next session, which was usually the rule, I was told that they were moving and I had no idea. So surprised is more - a better description.

But I do know why they had to move to Los Angeles, and it was all the better. The Motown sound was no longer being produced. They weren't using Funk Brothers anymore. The Commodores were the last act to record at Hitsville U.S.A. They were self-contained and so the sound wasn't being recorded anymore, the actually Motown way.

CONAN: And what have we lost because of that?

Ms. REEVES: Well, there are lot of musicians who are genius, and they're sitting somewhere now, practicing on their instruments. And they're waiting for music to come back to live musicians as opposed to the technical - I call them noisy toys that are being used in recordings today.

We sang good because - and had emotional input because of the musicians. The Funk Brothers loved us enough to distinguish one from the other. They - when they knew it was a song for me, they gave me a little extra soul, a little more punch, a little more of a bass line to sing to because there was an art that Holland-Dozier-Holland taught me to sing with the bass line.

And it was just a big disappointment to know that these fine musicians are no longer being featured in our live recordings. However, I'm making music and I'm going to make sure that when I do, I will have the people who are still here in Detroit who remember how the Motown sound was produced. My latest album, "Home To You," has the Motown sound.

CONAN: Martha Reeves, thanks very much for your time today. Congratulations on the event tomorrow at the White House. Have a great time.

Ms. REEVES: Thank you and God bless your hearts. Thank you.

CONAN: And also our thanks to Bob Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, who will also be at the White House tomorrow night.

Martha Reeves, among many others, will attend tomorrow's event. She joined us from member station WDET in Detroit, and Bob Santelli is here with us in Studio 3A.

We should note, tomorrow's performance will be taped by WETA and PBS. "The Motown Sound in Performance at the White House" premieres Tuesday, March 1st on PBS stations across the country. It's being produced by WETA. We thank them for their help reaching today's guests.

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