Home Celebrity Motown Musical Will Be Fun, But Not Factual

“Motown: The Musical” is wending its way toward us inexorably. A couple of weeks ago the producers of the show invited group theater bookers and advertisers to come see a little bit of the show. Berry Gordy, Jr., the man who invented Motown more than 50 years ago, trotted out Smokey Robinson, his friend and Motown legend. Aretha Franklin came because she’s from Detroit. She was not on Motown and had nothing to do with it. (Aretha, of course, was an Atlantic artist.) Gayle King and Jesse Jackson were among the guests.

But guess what? It’s no surprise that “Motown: the Musical” bears little resemblance to Motown, the actual story. For that you should read, if you can find it, Gerri Hershey’s seminal book, “Nowhere to Run.” Or Mary Wilson’s memoirs, called “Dreamgirl: My Life as Supreme.”

Those who saw the excerpt and know the history of Motown were a little taken aback. “The story we saw was a love story between Berry Gordy and Diana Ross, set in Paris. They even sing Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s duets to each other, even though Berry can’t sing in real life, and they never recorded those songs.”

It does sound like a lot of dramatic license has been taken to create a book for the musical. And Gordy is the sole credit as author of the book. Well, anyway, we know the music will be great, and that’s all that counts, right?

“I wonder,” says a source who saw the show, “if Diana Ross will ever come see this. I doubt it.”

Indeed, Ross may have some misgivings about all this. After all, when she had her fling with Gordy in Paris, she was married to Bob Silberstein. The result was her eldest child, Rhonda. Ross and Silberstein had two more daughters, Tracee and Chudney, who now by the last name Ross. Rhonda didn’t learn Gordy was her father until she was 13, in 1984.

Gordy has seven other children including his eldest, Hazel, who was married to Jermaine Jackson years ago. His sister, Anna, was famously married to Marvin Gaye until their bitter divorce. That story is told in song on Marvin’s classic album, called “Here, My Dear.” (If you don’t have that album, download it immediately. It’s among Marvin’s finest.)

“Motown: the Musical” is still doing casting sessions, looking for actors to play Smokey, Marvin and a young Michael Jackson.  It doesn’t sound like some of Motown’s finest singers — Levi Stubbs, Eddie Kendricks and David Ruffin, or Mary Wells–will be part of this story. But you never know. Here’s the casting link: http://www.motownthemusical.com/casting.html

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3 replies to this post
  1. I loved Berry Gordy’s book and read it over and over-and as you read it, you really understood where Michael Jackson got his drive and perfectionism-and demons-not just from his own family-but by being in that environment with all the past greats and baggage of the post war/civil rights years. Maybe Mr. Gordy “glossed” it up but it was really entertaining and enlightening.

    I want to read the other books now too-so glad you brought them to our attention. And I want to say that I appreciate the articles you’ve been writing regarding the Jacksons and Frank Dileo recently too.

  2. Thanks for clearing up the Paris thing. However. maybe you should tell us that Motown or Gordy is your PR client. And also why read Gordy’s one sided memoir when there are many good books that tell other sides?

  3. Unfortunately, some of your story is not factual. Diana Ross was NOT married to Silberstein during the Paris “fling.” This was in 1965, and it did not result in Rhonda’s birth, who was born in 1971, the same year the diva married Silberstein. A little bit of fact checking should have been done before you make such inaccurate statements.

    And instead of the two books noted, if someone wants to read the actual and factual story about Motown, why don’t you suggest the one that comes from “the horses’ mouth” – Berry Gordy: To Be Loved, the Music, The Magic, the Memories of Motown – an autobiography.

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