Black History Month: Heartbeat of America

 

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Photos: Mike Lee

By DIANE  S. WILLIAMS

The Motown Show’s two sold-out performances on Finale Night Feb. 27 ended the union’s month-long celebration of Black History.

Motown Spectacular is a musical co-written and directed by DC 37 member Yolanda Brooks-Ruiz, a Local 768 Public Health Sanitarian, and retired New York City Firefighter Juan Ruiz, who studied with renowned acting coach Lee Strasberg.

Black History Committee Chair and Local 1113 President Deborah Pitts emceed the night with DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido and Local 768 President Fitz Reid. Local 768 and the DC 37 Black History Committee sponsored the event.

Brooks-Ruiz’s Motown show highlights the genius of producer, songwriter and music pioneer Berry Gordy, who with writer Smokey Robinson, and later with the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, crafted tunes and smooth stylings that leaped past longstanding barriers and crossed over into American mainstream pop.

In the early years of Motown, its artists were relegated to use the back door, eat in restaurant kitchens, and they could not book a room in the hotels where they played. Gordy, like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., shared a vision of a more inclusive America.

As the civil rights movement gained momentum, the Vietnam War dragged on, and racial tensions birthed a positive black identity, it was the Motown sound that soothed tempers and comforted hearts.

Motown became the feel-good soundtrack for people old and young and helped define the music of a new generation of Americans–baby boomers, who are the largest population of Americans to date.

International exposure gained on television’s Ed Sullivan Show and Johnny Carson Show propelled Motown acts beyond the R&B chitlin’ circuit onto Main Street, USA. Steady appearances on Don Cornelius’ Soul Train shored Motown’s close ties to its African American base.

Motown became the heartbeat of America.

Brooks-Ruiz’s Motown Show relives the drama and the hits by Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Supremes, The Temptations, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Marvin Gaye, and Stevie Wonder, all performed by a talented cast of professionals. Its dazzling tribute to the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, electrified the DC 37 audience and had them screaming for more.

Motown also starred Stuart Bascombe, a founding member of ’70s soul group Black Ivory as Smokey Robinson, and DC 37 Local 371 member James R. Garrett as Berry Gordy.

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