One of my earliest musical memories – besides of my mother singing “You are my sunshine” and “A tisket a tasket” to us – is creeping out of bed when my parents were having a holiday party to watch and listen.
Above the laughter, the Cold Duck (‘member that?) and Scarlet O’Hara’s being poured and martini’s being mixed I heard a lady’s voice coming from the stereo that I had never heard before. The next day my dad told me her name was Billie. Later in my life I would come to know, love, and intently study her music…the amazing Billie Holiday. The song I heard that night was “I’ve got my love to keep me warm.” Click here to listen: 04 I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm
I grew up about an 45 minutes north of Motown – that is when Motown was IN Motown before Berry Gordy moved it to California in 1972….but that is another story. I wasn’t cognizant of it growing up, but there couldn’t have been a better place to see and hear the multitude of vocalists and musicians than the Detroit area. The talent was ripe for the picking, and lord, the city was overflowing with talent.
Blues, R & B, Jazz, Gospel and Pop genres stemming from a rich and diverse community of Polish, Greek, Italian, Black, Hispanic and more, overflowed the churches, radio stations, and community neighborhoods. It was awesome in the true sense of the word and I loved the music I heard on the radio, records and all around us.
I had discovered the radio – an AM radio at that – and fell asleep listening to the best of the best Motown artists in the late 60’s and very early 70’s. Twisting the dial one night I landed on a station that was playing a song I loved. I didn’t understand it, but I loved it and the voice. I loved it SO much that I got out of bed, wrote it down and in the next several weeks, went Kresge and bought the 45. The man with great talent was Marvin Gaye singing “What’s Going On.” Click here to listen: 09 What’s Going On
Not too long after that song hit the airwaves, I landed on a station and heard another song from Marvin, “Mercy, Mercy Me.” Click here to listen: 04 Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) I’ve been a Marvin Gaye devotee every since – partly because he stood up to Gordy to get “What’s Going On” released, but mostly because in my mind, he’s a superstar. I still wonder what would have happened with his career had he not developed a severe cocaine habit and been shot and killed by his father.
There was a lot of great coming out of Detroit…a lot of great people who started singing in the church. Although a phenomenal gospel singer, the first song I ever heard Aretha Franklin sing was “Rock Steady.” Click here to listen: 02 Rock Steady I couldn’t believe the abject POWER of her voice and even at that age, her voice gave me goosebumps.
There were SO MANY wonderful artists to choose from that my brothers and I heard growing up, but I wanted to share a few that made a huge impact on me and how I listened to music. Motown left the state in 1972, but until then, the voices of:
- Marvin Gaye
- The Isley Brothers
- Gladys Knight
- Martha and the Vandellas
- The Supremes
- The Temptations
- Jr. Walker
- Little Stevie Wonder
and many others made Motown what it was. I am profoundly appreciative of the diverse music I heard and welcomed into my life. I hope you’ve enjoyed it, too.
What music make and impact on YOU as a child?
All music featured here is available for download from iTunes: