1960s stars celebrate timeless music ahead of anniversary exhibit debut

Austin
Motown exhibit 12

AUSTIN (KXAN) — “Stop, in the name of love,” is what you’ll be itching to sing as you stand in front of a mic with your hand out in front of you at a new exhibit making its debut this week. 

“Motown: The Sound of Young America” will open to the public for the label’s 60th anniversary at the LBJ Library. The exhibit will feature interactive displays, outfits, sounds and instruments played by 1960s superstars.

The goal is to take audiences through the era of “Ooooohs and aahhhs and the baby baby’s,” the artists, including The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, The Miracles, the Jackson Five and The Supremes, all have a role. 

“That is amazing and fantastic that it’s the music has traveled all these years and still remains relevant,” said Claudette Robinson, the first female member of The Miracles — and for the label.

A title she takes pride in.

Robinson, Duke Fakir, founding member of The Four Tops, and Mary Wilson, founding member of The Supremes, all visited the exhibit, which is curated by the GRAMMY Museum, ahead of its debut on Saturday. 

Timeless music

While walking through the displays, it doesn’t take much time before the memories flood in, no matter your age. The sounds of the 1960s are prominent and tangible with the glittery costumes and shiny suits. 

“It’s an honor for people to see these outfits that we wore, and we paid for them ok!” Wilson said jokingly. “Alright, Motown didn’t pay for them, we paid for them ourselves.”

A display offers attendees the opportunity to stand on a stage with three microphones set up to belt out your best version of “Baby Love.” True to form and beautiful as ever, she stood next to the dresses she once wore. 

“It has a lot to do with the parents and the grandparents teaching their kids about the good music.”

“To think that after all these years there are still people that want to see us, that are still listening to our music and it seems like as the time has gone by they’re listening even more so as time has gone than for some in the younger days,” Robinson said.

Making their mark

 “The Miracles made their mark and I must tell you, in the beginning, The Miracles were not sure if we were gonna get to the next day,” Robinson said while opening up about the struggles they faced in Motown.

 “I’m going to be very honest when we heard about Motown when it started, we did not believe a black company in Detroit would be successful so we just turned our head the other way,” said Fakir. 

The Supremes began singing when they were 13-years-old, Wilson recalled, and said they were only 16 when they made it to Motown. She remembered the day she met the “genius” the world knows as Stevie Wonder.

“Little Stevie Wonder comes running in and he was nine-years-old and he just started playing every instrument in Studio A and I’m like ‘Oh that’s what a genius is.’” “We as young people have to take some credit for having the talent and going to Motown and saying we’re good and they saw that we were all good and they signed us.”

“Our goal was just to sing”

That’s how each one of the artists described their passion for what they did, without focusing on comparison or wanting to be “the star.”

“For us — The Miracles — we were not thinking about competing with the white artists. Actually, what we wanted to do, it wasn’t like a racial thing, it was a matter of you wanted the best record, the best music, the best producer, the best writer, all of those things combined,” Robinson said. “As a group, we wanted to be able to do the best that we could do and have people enjoy what we thought was a hit.”

They had many. 

They were the Motown’s first million-selling recording artists and charted over 50 hits, including “Tracks of My Tears” and “Oooo Baby Baby.”

The same went for The Four Tops. The group had two Billboard Top-100 hits including “I Can’t Help Myself (Honey Pie Sugar Bunch)” and “Reach Out I’ll Be There.” 

“Back then, a lot of engagements, we didn’t have to get paid, we just wanted to be up there,” said Fakir. “We needed the money really bad and it wasn’t about any of that it was just about getting on that stage and singing.”

Robinson added that if it had been the case that they were chasing the money, they would have stopped recording albums after the first one. “Many times we didn’t get paid, it was a lot of hard work and a lot of effort really went into making it all happen.”

For all of them, to look back on their hard work and remember the significance of what they did, they hope others who have the chance to go to the exhibit have the same experience. 

“Thank God that we all made it through and as I sit here, my heart is really full to think that we are still sustaining, we are still here, and I am very proud of the accomplishment of my sister and brother of song,” Robinson said. 

The exhibit opens to the public at the LBJ Library on Saturday, April 13, at 9 a.m.

The grand-opening will feature a day-long celebration with Motown-themed Yoga on the LBJ Plaza, performances by Motown cover band, The Matchmakers, free slices of pizza from Via 313 and free Longhorn City Limits pregame concerts on the LBJ Lawn.

The exhibition runs from Saturday through January 26, 2020.

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