‘GREAT MOMENT IN HISTORY’
Motown Museum breaks ground on expansion in festive event
On a day hailed by guests as a milestone moment for Detroit, the state of Michigan and American music, the Motown Museum broke ground Sunday on the first phase of its planned $50 million expansion.
A shower of gold confetti and the sounds of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” helped mark the occasion as Motown founder Berry Gordy, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other leaders turned the dirt just outside Hitsville, U.S.A., shortly after noon.
The museum’s fundraising campaign has crossed the $25 million threshold, chairwoman Robin Terry announced to the crowd of dignitaries, donors, Motown figures and throngs of fans packed into the tented space.
Gordy, 89, appeared to choke up as he addressed the crowd, saying he was grateful for “the heartfelt people” of Detroit.
“Not only will this expanded museum entertain and tell the stories of talented and creative people who succeeded against all odds,” Gordy said, “but it will inspire and create opportunity for the young people to go after their dreams and continue to make this world better and better, and go after the things that seem impossible.”
As the Free Press reported Friday, work has begun on a space to be called Hitsville Next, home to the Motown Museum’s growing series of youth and community programs. The first of four planned construction phases, it will link three houses east of the famed Hitsville building that served as Gordy’s original headquarters and studio, now the heart of the museum.
Work will be spearheaded by a pair of Detroit minority-owned companies: architectural firm Hamilton Anderson Associates and Brinker Construction.
Speakers on Sunday described the coming expansion as a hand-off of Motown’s legacy to coming generations — an endowment for Detroit’s future “in a spot that’s known around the world,” as Stabenow said.
Whitmer called Motown “the biggest cultural revolution in the last 100 years,” and said the museum expansion will “solidify it as a world-class tourist destination.”
The governor said she had exercised Sunday morning to the songs of Lizzo, the Detroit-born R&B star who burst onto the national scene this year. Today’s music owes a debt to the Motown phenomenon that took life 60 years ago, she said.
“I know that the path was started with what happened in Detroit,” Whitmer said.
For Gordy, Terry and some others on hand Sunday, the groundbreaking was literally a family occasion: The museum was cultivated three decades ago by the late Esther Gordy Edwards, Gordy’s older sister and grandmother of Terry.
“This moment means more to us than you can even imagine,” Terry said, and noted that “my grandmother would be proud.”
The Rev. Jackson called the West Grand Boulevard site “the Bethlehem of music” as he recounted his long association with the Gordy family, one that deepened during the civil-rights years of the ’60s.
“This place means so much to us,” Jackson said. Looking on at the groundbreaking were dozens of key Motown figures — the Temptations’ Otis Williams, songwriter Brian Holland, the Miracles’ Claudette Robinson, manager Shelly Berger, producer Suzanne de Passe, Gordy’s son Kerry Gordy.
Detroit Police Chief James Craig, also the city’s deputy mayor, and Rochelle Riley, the city’s new director of arts and culture, appeared on behalf of Mayor Mike Duggan. “This is a great moment in history,” Craig said. Also, on hand were several people with crucial roles in the expansion campaign, including former UAW-Ford vice president Jimmy Settles, the Ford Motor Company Fund’s Jim Vella, the Kellogg Foundation’s Faye Nelson and the Davidson Foundation’s Ethan Daniel Davidson.
Motown’s 60th anniversary activities will continue Sunday night with “Hitsville Honors,” a concert and tribute at Orchestra Hall.
Detroit Free Press music writer Brian McCollum
(Photos: Kathleen Galligan, Detroit Free Press)