The exit to the Motown Museum off I-94 is old and surrounded by tall grasses. The buildings are vacant and crumbling and the potholes are large. On this particular February day, the snow from a recent shower still covered much of the road, but the sun was quickly melting it into puddles. The traffic is light and the houses are few, but it is still clear that at one time, this area prospered.
The scenery changes after crossing the highway and taking a turn onto Grand Boulevard near the intersection of I-94 and the Lodge Freeway. The houses are still in use, traffic dotted the roadways, and the shadow of the old Fisher Building looms over the neighborhood. Now the local Henry Ford Hospital keeps the area alive with spatterings of gas stations and fast food joints nearby.
I pulled up to the Motown Museum with students that I supervise and a few co-workers excited and curious. I've lived in Michigan my entire life and have always wanted to visit the Motown Museum. While I had little idea of what to expect, I knew that whatever happened inside, I was going to be happy with what I saw.
The museum only has street parking, which adds to the neighborhood flair and gave me the feeling, for the first time in my stay here, that Detroit was a viable city. I had to be cautious of traffic on my way out of the car, I had to struggle to find a parking spot, and I passed several people on the sidewalk to the house. All three of these are things I have not experienced to this date. The bright sunshine added to the positive tones that the neighborhood was emitting.
I walked up the sidewalk with our crew and entered the museum, which is actually located in the house next to the famous "Hitsville" house, but nevertheless a former homestead. Immediately I was transported back in time and to a different world. The Motown music was pumping through the speakers and everyone couldn't help but sing along.
The museum itself is nothing too impressive. The entire place is spread between two homes, both small bungalow type houses with little room for manuverablity. The tour lasts about 40 minutes and takes you through the history of the company and the stars the label recorded. The tour ends with a view through the famous "Hitsville" house, seeing places where records were made and packaged at the dining room table, the couch where Marvin Gaye would sleep over, and the business area downstairs. The conclusion is at the famous Studio A where so many legends played and recorded their hit songs.
I can't say I was blown away by the museum, but I certainly wasn't disappointed. The tour guide who took us through the home had the same energy and soul that Motown music itself is known for. Hearing and reading about the Grand Boulevard of the 1960's made me realize what everyone always talks about with 'the glory days' of Detroit. People who were there remember when Grand Boulevard was always loud with music and bands playing their tune and hoping for Berry Gordy to discover them. Every house was vibrant and thriving and the center of Detroit was nearby. The home to one of the greatest music movements ever was right here in Michigan. It was easy to feel the ghosts of the past ever-present in the neighborhood.
Exiting into the sunlight of the late afternoon, I took at look at Grand Boulevard. The street still has a pulse. The city of Detroit overall seems to have a very faint heartbeat, but places like this area still have that pulse. It was said that Berry Gordy developed his music because of the beat from his job at the Ford factory doing the same thing all day long. That beat and pulse is what gets every person's toe tapping when they hear The Temptations and The Supremes. That pulse is what ran through the city long ago and what people are constantly seeking to recapture.
I greatly enjoyed my experience to the Motown Museum. Perhaps it was the group of people I was with or the tour guide I had. Maybe it was the beautiful weather and the fact that it was a Friday. Maybe it was because I've been seeking some culture and new experiences for some time now. Whatever it was, I felt a pulse that I haven't felt in my time here yet. And as always, I enjoyed a little bit of soulful, toe-tapping music to get me through the day. Until next time... thanks for reading.