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SHARON DAVIS' MOTOWN SPOTLIGHT - FEBRUARY 2016
As I was looking through my notes for this month’s chinwag I dug out a 1995 promotional CD which I’d quite forgotten was lurking in my collection. It’s the Jackson Five’s “J5 Soulsation!” 25th anniversary collection, pressed for in-store use only. Featuring twelve tracks, it kicks off with “I Want You Back”, into “ABC”, “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There”. “It’s Your Thing”, “Who’s Lovin’ You”, “Never Can Say Goodbye”, “A Fool For You” and “Maybe Tomorrow” follow, with a couple of Michael Jackson solo titles closing, namely, “Rockin’ Robin” and “I Wanna Be Where You Are”. It’s a lovely musical moment from a young group few could resist. Me included. I’ll have another search around for next month. Anyway, let’s TCB…..

Mr Postman has just delivered de letter…no, he hasn’t, but rather Adam White’s long awaited book “Motown – The Sound Of Young America”. He wrote this with Barney Ales while Andrew Loog Oldham has penned the forward. I can’t tell you any more now because I signed a secrecy agreement with the publishers Thames & Hudson. Ooops, sorry. So, suffice to say, more about its fabulousness next month when the book’s officially on the shelves.

There seems to be a bit of a hoo har about the forthcoming “Motortown Revue in Paris – Recorded Live” surrounding the pricing of the release, and, when asked, I suggested alternative ways of purchasing the CD. But won’t go into that now cos it’s advertising (again!) Recorded in April 1965 this pending release is one of those we simply must have and, although live albums fall low on my ‘love’ list, I was deliriously happy to see this available once more. “It’s really wonderful being here. I only wish that I could speak French so that I could let you know how wonderful it is” gasped Smokey Robinson, as the Motown Revue hit the stage of the Olympia concert hall in the French capital, the final date of an exhausting and ambitious overseas trek that took in the UK. Six months later, with Robert Gordy editing and re-sequencing the show, the album was issued Stateside. Alongside the performing acts of Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, The Supremes, The Miracles, there’s Earl Van Dyke and his musicians including Jack Ashford, Robert White and Eli Fontaine. By all accounts, Berry Gordy wasn’t willing to release Benny Benjamin and James Jamerson from studio duties, so Tony Newton and Bob Cousar replaced them on tour. Their contribution included “ All For You”, “See See Rider” and “Too Many Fish In The Sea”. So, here’s a snapshot of the other songs included – The Supremes’ “Come See About Me”, “Baby Love” and a showy version of the “West Side Story” highlight “Somewhere”. Diana Ross also took the opportunity to plug the trio’s “There’s A Place For Us” to be featured in a pending 1965 album based on Broadway songs. She was a smidge premature because the project was put on hold until 2004. Martha and the Vandellas’ “Heat Wave”, “Nowhere To Run” and, of course, “Dancing In The Street”, with a musical diversion to sing Pete Seeger’s “If I Had A Hammer”. Stevie Wonder’s “High Heel Sneakers”, “Fingertips” and, with Clarence Paul, “Funny (How Time Slips Away)”. Closing the high octane show were The Miracles with “I Gotta Dance To Keep From Crying”, “Come And Do The Jerk” and “Mickey’s Monkey”. Now preserved for posterity, the actual release date is sketchy as I write this, but do watch out for the varying purchasing price and avoid being caught out.

Oh dear, will this ever end? We’ve now lost Denise “Vanity” Matthews, who died on 15 February from kidney failure in Fremont, California. She was a mere 57 years old. For those not familiar with the lady, here goes. An eighties beauty and fashion icon, she will, I’m sure, primarily be remembered as a member of Prince’s girl group, Vanity 6 (with Susan and Brenda). However, Motown people will also recall her debut album “Wild Animal” in 1984 which combined rock ‘n’ roll, funk and classical music. The first single lifted “Pretty Mess” made inroads but, unfortunately, not sufficiently to hit the big time. Y’see, with such a beautiful and desirable lady to market, Motown had no problem in securing media coverage, but getting the public to buy her music was another matter. So, to help promote the album, Motown offered promotional aids like a designer kit entitled “My Private Parts”, with pink fact sheets covered in black lace and visuals that you wouldn’t want your Catholic mother to see. “I love sex. So that’s what I sing about. I just wish I had more time for it” the lady once said. A second single, “Mechanical Emotion” was released but, despite huge success on the US black charts, mainstream sales didn’t happen. Not giving up, a second album “Skin On Skin” was issued during 1986 but, alas, apart from the obvious media attention, the music struggled again. On the up side, Vanity was a breath of sexy fresh air for Motown, and I honestly believe she should have had a bigger bite of the cherry because the company’s music motto is – “it’s what’s in the grooves that counts” - and her music was excellent!

My roving newspaper reporter Lynne Pemberton tells me that Amber Riley, who played the soul diva Mercedes Jones during six seasons of “Glee”, has secured the role of Effie in “Dreamgirls” which is due to hit the Savoy in London later this year. The actual dates will be confirmed in a month’s time but it looks likely that the official opening night will be in December. Amber, of course, has big shoes to fill because the first Effie on Broadway was, as you know, the amazing Jennifer Holliday, who blew the world away with the soaring powerhouse ballad “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”. (And not forgetting Jennifer Hudson’s heart stopping performance in the movie as well) However, great things have been said about Amber, she has a solid background and mountains of experience. She said she was honoured and excited to be playing such an iconic role, plus working in London’s West End was a dream realised. Often compared to the story of The Supremes and Berry Gordy - I think the storyline could be adapted to several rags to riches situations between singers and manager don’t you? – it’s a compulsive, enjoyable view. Entertaining, being the key word, so will probably check it out in London later in the year. Meantime, “Motown:The Musical” is now showing in the city; the previews have encouraged positive responses, with Lucy St Louis’ portrayal Diana Ross rated as spot on. With Cedric Neal playing Berry Gordy, it appears the musical has taken £5 million at the box office already (what!), extending the booking period now to February 2017. Yup, I’m going with the same folks that I saw the show with on Broadway two years ago, and although I can’t now remember much of the show’s detail, am very much looking forward to revisiting this significant slice of music history.

This then is the perfect link to Motown’s history, and to make mention of a lady who played such an important, vital role in the formation of the company – Anna Gordy Gaye. The lady died in January 2014 at the grand age of 92 years. Elder sister of Berry, she was a guiding, loyal light in his life, encouraging him to follow his dreams and standing by his side as they unfolded. Anna was the third child in Bertha and Berry Snr’s family, raised in church, learning the values of life and respecting the feelings of others. When she was one years old, her family relocated from Georgia to Detroit, settling into a modest west side home before later switching to an up-market east side apartment on Farnsworth and St Antoine. It was a hard working environment she grew up in and before long, Anna was working in the family grocery store, while her male siblings worked alongside their father in other businesses. Anna went on to credit her parents as being a positive influence in her life, forging love and family camaraderie, which in turn bonded Anna with her brothers and sisters. And this lasted her life through.

While at school, the young girl developed a unquenchable zest for life, sucking in the appreciation of beautiful things and a love for beautiful people. As a teenager, she continued her family’s work ethic by walking a mile each day from her home to her first outside work at a local dime store, before working for the US Government’s TACON plant. When not working, Anna lived life to the full by horse riding, learning to tap dance and indulging in her love of music. She was fun; she had flair and was beautiful. Her independent soul led to her joining sister Gwendolyn in the photo concession business she owned at Detroit’s Flame Show Bar, with brothers Robert and George on call to develop the photos in their own dark room. Moving from visuals to music, Gwen, with Billy Davis, formed her own record label, proudly named after her sister Anna. And it was there that the girl named Anna met Marvin Gaye. Their relationship prompted Marvin to write “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow”, “Pride And Joy” and “You Are A Wonderful One”. She was also a composer in her own right; helped Marvin pen “Baby, I’m For Real” and “The Bells” for The Originals, plus a couple of tracks on “What’s Going On”, namely, “God Is Love” and “Flyin’ High (In The Friendly Sky)”. However, she has always said that one of the proudest moments in her life was Berry founding Motown. After all, with sister Gwen, she had spoken up on his behalf to persuade the family to lend him the money he so desperately needed in the first place. “She backed me up on everything I tried to do and gave me the confidence to be what I wanted to be” Berry said.

The Gordy/Gaye marriage is, of course, well documented but when it was blessed with the arrival of Marvin Gaye III, there was a solidness between them, and they purchased a larger property to open the doors to her nieces and nephews. Ah, but the beautiful Anna never forgot her passion for music and with Jimmy Levine worked on Outpost Drive with established and up-and-coming acts. Jimmy considered the lady to be his mentor, teacher and very dear friend since they first met in 1973. Many have called her a champion of children, particularly young males whom she felt were at most risk, and spent hours listening, encouraging and advising how to accomplish more than they believed possible. It was this warm-hearted loving way that enabled her to build bridges where there was little hope. Her fiercely protective nature for her siblings was unrivalled, and nothing went unchallenged if the need arose. “Everyone of my brothers and sisters was unique. I am no different. I was just blessed to be one of them and I praise The Lord for that!”

Finally, check this out if you haven’t done already. “The Early Motown EPs Vinyl Box”. The box itself is made in a sturdy, thick cardboard and the notes inside are colourful and informative from the pen of Paul Nixon. Well done love! It holds the first seven EPs released in the UK, namely, The Miracles’ “Shop Around”, Little Stevie Wonder’s “I Call It Pretty Music But…The Old People Call It The Blues”, “Hitsville USA No 1”, “R&B Chartmakers” numbers 1, 2, 3 and 4. A limited edition, by all accounts; I’ve got 2354/3000, and the set sells for £34.60 or thereabouts on amazon.co.uk, so do visit this site first before parting with any money because, once again, shopping around makes good sense, honest. So, when I’ve finished typing here, I’m planning to set up my turntable for an hour of vinyl magic. Yay! Until next month, thank you for being here and…

Keep on keeping the Motown faith!


About the Writer
Sharon Davis ran the Four Tops fan club before spearheading Motown Ad Astra, catering for all the Motown acts, where she edited the in-house magazine TCB. Was publicist for Fantasy, Stax and Salsoul before joining Motown Records in London. Formed her own press/promotion company Eyes & Ears, worked for Blues & Soul magazine and website, and became a full time author and researcher. To date Sharon has written eleven books (her last A Girl Called Dusty published by Carlton Books) and she’s working on her next - Divas Of Motown. As a researcher, Sharon assisted Diana Ross with her autobiography Secrets Of A Sparrow, and is now in constant demand for her knowledge about Motown and its artists.
  
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