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Motown Museum celebrates 30 years

outside of hitsville usa and motown museum building
Flickr user Ted Eytan

Many of Motown's greatest hits were written at a little house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, the house known as Hitsville USA.

Hitsville USA was Motown's first headquarters until Berry Gordy moved the label to Los Angeles 30 years ago this week. Later, 2648 West Grand Boulevard became The Motown Museum, drawing visitors from around the world.

Hour Detroit Magazine’s Jim McFarlin, who recently wrote about the museum's anniversary, says, "It is a monument. To many people it is like Mecca.”

The museum has stayed in the family over the years. Current CEO Robin Terry is the granddaughter of museum founder Esther Gordy Edwards.

Robin says her grandmother was inspired to create the museum after many visitors came to the building simply wanting a peek inside Studio A.

Studio A is still a part of the museum and tours allow visitors to stand in the exact spots of the legends who recorded there.

"There's nothing traditional about it. We sing, we dance, we clap. It's an experience," Terry says of visits to the museum.

McFarlin endorses this, saying, "They really put you in the footsteps of the artist as you go through the tour and you must be prepared to sing."

The museum has drawn many famous faces and music legends throughout the years, including Michael Jackson. He became one of the museum's first big contributors and the fedora and glove he gave the museum are still on display.

But Motown was more than just a place to see famous faces, it was a place to come together as a community.

"Most of the Motown artists came from within a five-mile radius of the Hitsville house," Terry says.

Now, according to McFarlin, the museum attendance is made up of 75% tourists.

Terry is looking to bring back the community feel, saying "It had a magnetic effect in the community for those who are creative and wanted to make music, and I think it's important in terms of our programming that we continue to foster creativity in the Detroit community."

This month the museum is hosting a spoken-word series every Friday from 8 to 10 p.m. The series is in honor of Motown's Black Forum label, the spoken-word label that included recordings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Stokely Carmichael, and Elaine Brown.

"Creating more programming like that, to give Detroiters a reason to come back to Hitsville and to continue to create and build on that phenomenal legacy that exists there, that's really what the future of the museum has to be about," Terry says.

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