Memories of Motown

I spent my teen years in Chicago listening to Motown records. My Christmas and elementary school graduation wish in January 1958 was to have a stereo. My parents purchased one from Sears Roebuck and I was in love. I remember its sound and exact location in the house. It had a radio and a record player, so I could play 45’s, 78’s, and LP albums. Being a teen, records and radio were my only sources of music. If you are too young to understand, here’s a photo to show you what our “iPod” looked like!

My mom played 78’s. I grew up listening to Lena Horne, singing, “Stormy Weather,” Louis Armstrong singing “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” Dinah Washington singing “What a Difference A Day Makes,” and countless other wonderful songs. My dad was into New Orleans jazz and most of his music was on LPs. The house was full of music, songs, and dancing. That stereo got a full workout! Then came the teenager Annette with those rock and roll songs.

Prior to Motown, my friend Annie Bell and I would sit and listen to songs by The Platters like “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” “Stagger Lee” by Lloyd Price, “The Happy Organ” by Dave “Baby” Cortez, and of course the great man Ray Charles singing “Georgia on My Mind.” I remember sitting outside trying to catch a breeze on long hot summer nights with high humidity. If we watched the lightning bugs long enough, they danced to the sounds of the music we played. Oh my, I see the vision still in my mind’s eye. Memories are wonderful things. Go back with me and remember your teen years.

We would listen to songs, trying to visualize the places and the feelings we heard. Overhead, we watched for shooting stars, and if we were lucky and saw one, our wish would come true. Like all teen girls, we wished for boy friends.

When we started listening to Motown sounds, WOW! It was one great singer after another. I recall sitting outside on the front stoop (a Chicago thing) with Annie listening to Motown on the radio. As teens, we waited for the new record to be released and played on the radio. Back then, 45’s cost 79¢ each, plus the little insert to play the record on the stereo. Annie and I would each buy a different record and we would play them late into the evening.

Some of the Motown records in my collection were “Please, Mr. Postman” by the Marvelettes (1961); “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” by the Four Tops (1961); “My Guy” by Mary Wells (1964); and at the top of my list was “My Girl” by the Temptations (1965). My collection grew as Motown grew. Over the years, artists, musicians, and groups produced by Motown ruled: Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye. All became part of what would be known as the Motown Sound.

Back in the day, listening to Motown on the radio and records was the equivalent of going to concerts. Later on, the stars of Motown would appear at the Regal Theatre on Cottage Grove in Chicago. And I was there! If you are from Chicago’s South Side, then you know the thrill of going to the Regal Theatre and listening to and enjoying the singers of Motown.

This Sunday, May 17th, I am thrilled that my company,Vibrant Seniors Events, will bring 38 folks to Motown the Musical at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Our group will be transported from 2015 back to Motown 1961. It’s been over 50 years, but I still remember the words to the Motown songs. My vocals are off-key but I sing with the best of them! Even my grandchildren love the songs of Motown. I was their chauffeur for many years, playing “Oldies but Goodies” as I drove them around. They had no choice but to listen and learn and we would all sing along. The joy of bringing memories from my childhood into the world of children two generations out is heartwarming. And the opportunity to share Motown the Musical with a fabulous group of people this Sunday is going to be a joyful adventure!