On July 16, the Houston Symphony presents The Men of Motown Featuring Spectrum, a concert celebrating the rich musical legacy of some of Motown’s greatest artists. Headlining the concert will be the vocal ensemble Spectrum, one of the best Motown-style ensembles around. Spectrum vocalist Cushney Roberts took some time to share a bit of the remarkable history behind this music.
Well into the 1950s, music recordings by American black artists were classified as “race” records and were typically forbidden or severely restricted from radio airplay on “white” stations. Many of the songs were rerecorded, or covered, by white artists who often prospered from broader airplay and sales while the original artists struggled. Perhaps most notably, songs by Fats Domino and Little Richard were covered by Pat Boone (“Ain’t That a Shame,” “Tutti Frutti” and “Long Tall Sally”); Big Momma Thornton’s “Hound Dog” was covered by Elvis Presley; and The Beatles covered Chuck Berry, the Marvelettes and Little Richard with “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Please Mr. Postman” and “Long Tall Sally,” respectively.
Since airwaves cannot be controlled, white audiences first heard these “forbidden” tunes on black-oriented radio programs. The demand grew, and white-orientated stations were pressured into playing recordings by the black artists. The “crossovers” moved into an arena where a larger, more lucrative audience awaited.
Paralleling the era of segregation in the 1950s and ’60s, Berry Gordy founded Motown Records, named for Detroit: Motor City. He envisioned a style and presentation of music that would capture the attention of all of America’s youth. By tapping into a deep pool of talented young performers, writers, musicians and producers, he mined great songs and presented them to an eager public. Groomed at Motown’s finishing school, well-mannered young black performers thrilled audiences with their flashy, yet classy, costumes and exquisite choreography.
Once on the airwaves, the music took root, and the cornerstone of the soundtrack of the 1960s and ’70s Vietnam and Civil Rights era found its place in American history. The Motown sound shared top rankings on the American pop charts with America’s British Invasion, while it made its mark on Britain and beyond. Gordy’s acts made regular appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and numerous TV specials.
An American institution and unique musical and entrepreneurial phenomenon, Motown stands as a shining example of a merger of American ingenuity and talent.
Don’t miss Cushney Roberts and Spectrum perform the Music of Motown at our concert on July 16! Click here for tickets and more information.