The Michigan Daily - michigandaily.com
Thursday, February 18, 2010 -- 3B
Celebrating Motown at the U'
Professors, students combo with School of Music, Theatre & example of the label's role in shattering
Dance students. Friday will begin with a racial barriers, saying that Motown "made
and industry insiders panel discussion, followed by a conversa- this incredible breakthrough in terms of
tion with former Motown employees and getting black music and black artists into
reflect on Motown's two more panel discussions. mainstream America.
"People from the School of Music, The- "It seems hard to believe today, but at .N
massive influence atre & Dance ... are talking about it from a the time in '65, the Supremes had three
historical and a cultural perspective," said number-one hit records in a row, they're
By DAVID RIVA MT&D Ph.D. Candidate Scott Edgar, mem- on the Ed Sullivan show, they're on all the g
DailyArts Writer ber of the "Going to School on Motown" big network TV shows at the time, but I
panel discussion. "There's people from can't get them on the cover of a weekly TV F l
In the music world, unanimous accep- Detroit talking about it in terms of an urban guide, because the editor of the TV guide
tance, critical praise and unquestion- perspective, there's people from recording is saying, 'We can't put black people on the
able staying power are each difficult to agencies talking about that perspective cover of a TV magazine ... people keep this - r.
ally, let alone all at "Growing Up
once. Every person Motown:
has specific tastes,
and every class, cul- Stevie Wonder,
ture, gender and race Michael Jackson
has a style or sound
unique to itself and the Making
Flash back to the of Motown"
middle of the 20th
century, when a Today and
Detroit-based record tomorrow,
label broke these con- various times
ventions of isolation Palmer Commons
and segregation and Free
created a phenome-
non that transcended
normal explanation. Fifty years after its
inception, Motown Records and the artists
it produced have remained a topic of con-
versation in music, pop culture, academia
The University's Center for Afroameri-
can & African Studies, in conjunction with
University Unions' Arts and Programs
S Division and the School of Music, The-
atre & Dance, has taken advantage of this
common point of interest and gathered a
diverse group of scholars, students and
industry professionals to weigh in on the
lasting impact of Motown.
"Growing Up Motown: Stevie Won-
der, Michael Jackson and the Making of
Motown" will take place today and tomor-
row at Palmer Commons. Today's events
include a student panel highlighting vari-
ous Motown-related projects at the Uni-
versity, a keynote address and a student
performance by "The Motown.10," a jazz
and I think that's important because all of
those components are what built Motown."
The two-day symposium is not just a
bunch of super-fans celebrating some of
the world's most beloved artists. It's also
a critical assessment of the label's influ-
ence on the advancement of equality in
the entertainment industry and Motown's
role as the soundtrack for a time of great
"It's an absolutely central part of Amer-
ican history," said University of Wiscon-
sin professor and author
Craig Werner, today's
keynote speaker. "With-
out Motown, you cannot
tell a story of the changes
in America from the late
1950s, really, to the present.
"Motown changed the
ways in which white people
with no particular commit- MO T
ment to civil rights ... under-
experience," he said. "It was opening a
door that's been, in one way or another ...
opening ever since."
"I think that there's a very, very strong
argument to be made that without Motown
you can't have Barack Obama," Werner
added. He will address this topic in his
talk, "Heaven Help Us All: Stevie Wonder,
Michael Jackson and the Meaning(s) of
Motown in the Age of Obama."
Al Abrams, a former press agent and
public relations consultant at Motown
Records, agreed with this connection to
our nation's current commander in chief
and backed up the bold claim with an
in their living room all week long by their
TV set, they can't keep looking down at it
and seeing these black faces looking up at
"And of course, in my typical naivety,
I say, 'Well ... they could always turn the
cover over and look at the ad on the back."'
With enough perseverance, Abrams
helped to land stories in TIME, News-
week and LIFE magazines. But exposure
for his artists through mainstream media
outlets was not his only accomplishment.
Getting disc jockeys to play
Motown records on white
radio stations proved to
be an exceedingly difficult
"When we started out,
even (the artists on Bill-
board's) Hot 100 chart ...
were segregated," he said.
W No "There was a separate chart
for blacks. We broke that
barrier. That's one of the
things I'm very proud of. That doesn't exist
anymore thanks to what we did."
"I still believe ... it's a straight line of pro-
gression even SO years later to the election
of Barack Obama," Abrams added.
The fusion of scholars like Werner
and first-hand witnesses like Abrams is
what makes the symposium particularly
"People are still doing dissertations
and books and articles on Motown, and
we wanted to bring some of that scholar-
ly activity together with people who had
actual memories (and people) who had
worked for the company," explained Pro-
fessor of Afroamerican and African Stud-
ies Angela Dillard, a co-organizer of the
Furthermore, students will provide an
entirely distinct viewpoint from a genera-
tion that listened to Motown on the oldies
station with their parents and grandpar-
Instead of emphasizing Motown as an
integral part of American history, School
of Art & Design senior Michelle Dimuzio
said, "It's just feel-good music."
"It's very simple in its message ... it can
appeal to any person and it's really fun to
dance to and ... get stuck in your head," she
Dimuzio is still conscious of the greater
consequences of Motown. She is focusing
her Integrative Project in the School of Art
& Design on Motown and noted the music's
specific influence on modern R&B and hip
An obvious roadblock arises when con-
sidering a young person's point of view:
Can 20-year-olds really relate to music
COURTESY OF CBS
An integral band to Motown's success, the Jackson 5, perform on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Despite the popularity of Motown music, black artists still faced obstacles in the media
made 50 years ago?
LSA junior Jalynn Lassic doesn't see
this as an issue.
"A song can be 50-years-old or 50-sec-
onds-old. If it's written well, if it has a good
beat ... (it's) always going to be relevant,"
For Music, Theater & Dance senior Wil-
liam Stanton, Motown is compelling to
study from a music producer's standpoint,
rather than solely through a cultural or
"Everything in the recording (process)
... by today's standards ... was absolutely
wrong," he explained. "It was largely engi-
neered by people (who) didn't know any-
thing about the equipment and didn't know
anything about engineering in general ...
The sound equipment that comes free on
an average Mac is far beyond what some
engineers had back in the day.
"And yet there's still something about
the way that they did it," he said, "working
though the limitations of their day (and) it
just sounds phenomenal."
He added, "There's this kind of energy
that they put into it that is very appealing
(and is) much more meaningful than the
Dimuzio, Lassic and Stanton are all on
the "Going to School on Motown" panel
and have personal ties to the Detroit area,
some stronger than others.
Lassic, for instance, has a "great aunt
(who) knew Diana Ross and some of the
Motown singers ... (she) tells stories about
how they hung out with them early in their
The music itself took a primary posi-
tion in CAAS Program Associate Elizabeth
James's upbringing: "Being a little girl and
hearing these songs, I'd go ask, 'What does
this mean?' and my parents would talk to
me about it and yet it was introduced in a
way with such beautiful melodies that they
haunt me still.
"The whole notion of possibilities in
the midst of the Detroit rebellions, I know
that definitely helped our family through
a lot of hard times," she added. "You could
always put on Motown music and feel bet-
These personal stories will share the
stage with lectures, discussions and a per-
formance in what Dillard hopes will not
only be "a multi-generational celebration
but also (a) critical reflection on Motown
and what it meant."
For more information on events and
times, visit www.umich.edu/-iinet/caas.
Stevie Wonder is the subject of two seperate lectures to be given at the symposium.
The lighter side of Our Town'
By EMMA JESZKE
Daily Arts Writer
Audiences go to the theater expecting to
watch a play safely behind an imaginary bar-
rier, the theatrical "fourth wall," and willingly
* suspend their disbelief. Gen-
erally, they do not expect to
be directly addressed by the "Our Town"
actors or that the production
will purposefully call atten- Tonight at
tion to itself. But that's what 7:30 p.m.,
"Our Town" does from its very Tomorrow and
first line. Saturday at 8
"Our Town," one of the p.m., Sunday
most frequently produced at 2 p.m.
American plays, opens the Mendelssohn
Department of Theatre & Theater
Drama's winter season with Tickets from $9
a contemporary perspective
on the 72-year-old work. This
production amplifies the self-referential quali-
ties of the play, which follows a narrator called
the Stage Manager who serves as a mediator
between the audience and the everyday interac-
tions of the people in the fictional town of Gro-
ver's Corners, New Hampshire.
Director Jerry Schwiebert, clinical assistant
professor of performing arts in the School of
Music, Theatre & Dance, said that his adaptation
of "Our Town" isn't a complete departure from
the traditional tendencies of the production.
However, specific, minimal design choices were
made in order to place emphasis on the simplic-
ity and richness of the text. The stage setting
consists of little more than two tables and some
chairs. The fly system (ropes, counterweights,
and pulleys offstage that move curtains, scen-
ery, etc.) is completely exposed on stage left.
There will be no props used by the actors, and
the lighting design will highlight areas of the
stage rather than create an elaborate spectacle.
"If you have a fast horse, don't put two jock-
eys on its back," Schwiebert said. "What I mean
is, if you have a really good play, you don't need
to mess it up. The approach was to tell the story
simply, to make the stage look empty."
"It's a chance to see how powerful the theater
can be without glitz, without trumpinit up -
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This production of 'Our Town' uses minimal set elements to put the focus on the actors.
just an actor on stage talking truthfully to you," too artificial.
he added. "My thought was that the actions that (the
Characters in "Our Town" range from as old actors) play define and age the character,"
as 60 to as young as 11. Even though the actors Schwiebert explained. "We'll just let (the actors)
portraying the variety of ages are all University be themselves, let them show the character and
students, Schwiebert explained that theatrical how they behave differently, and I think that
aging makeup w al not be used because it sems f See OUR TOWN, Page 4B