Celebrating the smooth sounds of Motown

By Kevin Teller

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On Feb. 4, students learned how the sounds of Motown have shaped musical culture throughout the world. Senior curator of the Detroit Historical Society, Joel Stone, delivered a speech on the history of the music of Detroit.

The festivities took place at an African American celebration event hosted by Kresge Library. The event focused on culture and how music fits in as a part, according to Outreach librarian Anne Switzer.

While this specific event concerned topics of Motown and Detroit music, there are a wide variety of subjects that the Detroit Historical Society will send Stone out to speak about.

“Much of music today is built on Motown,” said Nancy Bulgarelli, interim dean of university libraries. “Because OU has such strong programs in the performing arts, Motown is a great topic for students here.”

The impact of Motown is not lost in the newer generations of musical styles either. Students were able to walk away from the lecture with a greater understanding of music that came before their time.

“[Stone] was extremely inspirational,” said Chris Hesano, OU student and professional DJ. “It was great to see what Detroit was all about back then.”

Beginning in 1710, Stone described the city’s musical origins in small ensembles, beginning with small, easy-to-carry instruments that were popular in France at the time.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, musicians were a highly-prized commodity. No party or social gathering was complete without at least a solo violinist to add to the atmosphere, according to Stone.

Coming from a background of being a musician and working for 20 years in the record business, Stone understood and communicated the work that Berry Gordy put into the Motown record label.

Gordy selected studio musicians from the great numbers that were present in Detroit during the golden eras of jazz and bebop as well as premier classical musicians, such as those from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

“Motown is a part of the mojo of Detroit,” Stone said. “It would be played at any party, no matter what [ethnic] group it was.”

Stone acknowledged that this music is an important chapter in Detroit’s global contributions, both musically and culturally.

African American Celebration Month runs Jan 19th through Feb 19th. For more information on events, visit oakland.edu/cmi/aacm or contact the Center for Multicultural Initiatives.