DETROIT (AP) — It wasn’t sweet music that brought Martha Reeves to the microphone at the Fox Theatre that day in July 1967; it was brutal reality.
Detroit was burning.
Headlining a string of shows for a hometown crowd, the singer of “Heatwave,” ”Dancing in the Street” and other hits announced that rioting had spread through the city. Leave calmly, she said, and return safely to your homes.
Fifty years later, the leader of Martha and the Vandellas still can’t quite believe it happened. “Imagine going out there lighthearted and ready to work,” she said. “My heart was beating so fast after returning to the dressing room.”
In the days that followed, Motown’s “Sound of Young America” — on the stage and in the studio — was silenced by the sights and sounds of sirens, gunshots, fires and military tanks along Detroit’s streets. For about a week, as the city was convulsed in violence that began when police arrested black patrons at an after-hours bar, the studio went dark.
Motown was near the epicenter but largely spared during unrest that enveloped 25 city blocks and claimed 43 lives.
What happened in the streets was a wake-up call for many at the label that churned out hits by the Vandellas, as well as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Temptations, Four Tops and others. The rioting, the deadliest of dozens that raged that summer in U.S. cities, raised consciousness and even recalibrated the music alongside the Vietnam War and assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy.
At the time of the riots, Motown truly was “Hitsville USA.” According to author and Motown expert Adam White, the labels that comprised the company had eight singles in the Billboard Hot 100 that week, including two songs in the top 20 and a couple more that were covered by others. Although Motown tunes continued to play on the radio during those deadly days of unrest, it was the first time in years that the studio at 2648 W. Grand Boulevard, famous for manufacturing music around-the-clock, had gone quiet for such a long period.
Motown’s recording session logs, now kept in a New York City vault maintained by the Universal Music Group, show work halted on July 22 and didn’t resume until July 31, according to company officials.
As chaos descended, loyal Motown staffers thought it would be business as usual.
“All day Sunday … TV was totally involved in covering as much as they could — in spite of that there were some of us who got up Monday morning and made our way to work,” said Pat Cosby, who worked in the studio’s tape library. “We did hear gunfire as we’re on the Lodge (freeway) and even then we’re thinking, ‘I got to get to work.’ We did not realize the overall destruction that was going on.”
Cosby recalled that she and her colleagues were met and “basically turned around at the door” by Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. The man who founded the label in 1959 with an $800 family loan told his employees that, much to his dismay, the sonic assembly line had stopped….
Continued via… Source: Detroit’s ’67 riots halted music, helped recalibrate sound – San Antonio Express-News