Celebrating the 56th Birthday of Motown at Hitsville U.S.A.

Celebrating the 56th Birthday of Motown at Hitsville U.S.A.

On West Grand Boulevard, just north of Downtown Detroit, Motown Records was founded by Berry Gordy, Jr. on April 14, 1960. The record company named for the Motor City became the soundtrack not just for a city but for a generation. Hitsville U.S.A is an apt name for the tourist attraction in Detroit that launched such legends as Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and many more. Hit after hit in the 1960’s brought the company a gross income of $20 million by the end of 1966.

A few years ago I took a birthday trip to Detroit. I had never really been a tourist in that town, and as lifelong Michigander I figured it was about time! I went to the Detroit Institute of Art, ate some crepes for lunch, took a little walking tour downtown with Detroit Experience Factory, and ate an authentic Middle Eastern dinner in Dearborn, but the highlight of my trip was the Motown Museum, aka Hitsville U.S.A. As someone who wore out her Supremes Greatest Hits CD in college, this was the tour for me!

The two houses on West Grand Boulevard were part of a block-long row of seven houses in the Motown Compound that included recording studios, marketing offices and “artist personal development” offices, which included everything from grooming, poise, and social graces to voice lessons and choreography. When we arrived, we bought our tickets for a timed tour guide-led entry. Our tour guide was awesome! He was singing the hits as we walked the storied halls filled with costumes, records and memorabilia of some of the greatest artists to ever live. There’s no photography allowed inside, but we took plenty of goofy poses outside!

Supremes in the Making at Motown Museum Hitsville U.S.A.
The Supremes in the Making: My Sister and I at Motown Museum, Hitsville U.S.A. | Courtesy of Rebecca Calkins

So many of those artists still living are on my (and probably yours!) bucket list of people to see in concert. Here are my Top 12 of Motown’s best known hit-makers, plus the songs you’ll find me listening to:

  1. Smokey Robinson
    (with the Miracles) The Tracks of My Tears; I Second That Emotion; The Tears Of A Clown; You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me; Ooo Baby Baby; (Solo) Cruisin’
  2. Stevie Wonder
    Superstition; Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours); For Once In My Life; I Just Called To Say I Love You; Isn’t She Lovely; Higher Ground; You Are The Sunshine Of My Life; My Cherie Amour; Overjoyed
  3. Marvin Gaye
    I Heard It Through the Grapevine; What’s Going On; Let’s Get It On; Got to Give It Up (Part 1); Sexual Healing; Ain’t No Mountain High Enough; How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)
  4. The Jackson 5
    I Want You Back; ABC; I’ll Be There; Who’s Loving You; Dancing Machine
  5. The Temptations
    My Girl; Get Ready; Ain’t Too Proud To Beg; Papa Was A Rolling Stone; The Way You Do The Things You Do
  6. Four Tops
    Baby I Need Your Loving; I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch); Reach Out I’ll Be There; It’s the Same Old Song; Standing in the Shadows of Love; Bernadette
  7. The Supremes
    You Can’t Hurry Love; Baby Love; Stop! In The Name Of Love; Come See About Me; Where Did Our Love Go; I Hear a Symphony; (solo Diana Ross) Endless Love (with Lionel Richie); I’m Coming Out; Upside Down
  8. Lionel Richie
    All Night Long (All Night); Hello; Say You, Say Me; Stuck On You; Dancing on the Ceiling; (with the Commodores) Easy; Brick House; Three Times A Lady
  9. Gladys Knight & the Pips
    Midnight Train to Georgia; Best Thing That Ever Happened; Neither One Of Us (Wants To Be The First to Say Goodbye)
  10. Martha and the Vandellas
    Dancing In The Street; (Love Is Like A) Heat Wave; Nowhere To Run
  11. The Marvelettes
    Please Mr. Postman; Playboy; Beechwood; Too Many Fish in the Sea
  12. Rick James
    Super Freak; Give It To Me Baby; Fire and Desire

Save the Date
If you are looking to get all the hits in one sitting, Motown The Musical is coming back around to Michigan in 2017!

Detroit, MI Apr. 18 – Apr. 30, 2017 Fisher Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI May 2 – May 7, 2017 DeVos Performance Hall
Kalamazoo, MI May 9 – May 14, 2017 Miller Auditorium

What’s Your favorite Motown Hit? Let us know in the comments!