Motortown Revue

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

The Motortown Revue was the name given to the package concert tours of Motown artists in the 1960s. Early tours featured Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, Barrett Strong, and The Contours as headlining acts, and gave then-second-tier acts such as Marvin Gaye, Martha & The Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips and The Temptations the chances to improve their skills.

Motown's entire roster, and occasionally non-Motown performers such as Dusty Springfield, The Shirelles and Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles, were featured on the tours. Most of the venues for the early Motortown Revue tours were along the "chitlin' circuit" in the eastern and southern United States. In the Deep South racism became an issue, as the mostly African American performers were sometimes attacked or threatened by local white residents. While in the north the Motown artists generally played to mixed audiences, in the South, white and black audiences either attended separate shows, or were allowed to attend the same show as long as each race stayed on either side of a police-guarded rope that divided the performance hall. Motown artists are credited with being among those who broke down these barriers so later audiences would no longer be separated by color.

It was from a live Motortown Revue performance that Little Stevie Wonder got his first big hit, the 1963 #1 hit "Fingertips (Pt. 2)". Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Jr. noted in his biography, To Be Loved, that the Revue was used to showcase Stevie Wonder in the days before he had his first hit. Also, Smokey Robinson and the other Miracles composed songs such as "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "My Girl" while on the road, which later became hits for The Temptations. The Miracles, Motown's first star act (and first million-selling group), always closed the show.

After becoming a major force in the music industry during the mid-1960s, Motown continued to organize group tours under the Motortown Revue name. Later tours from the mid-1960s on covered the entire United States, and the rest of the world as well.

A four-CD box set compiling the four issued albums of Motortown Revue live performances was released by Motown/Hip-O select in 2002, celebrating the Revue's 40th anniversary. Motortown Revue: 40th Anniversary Collection collected the various artists Motown releases Motortown Revue, Vol. 1 Recorded Live at the Apollo (1963), Motortown Revue Vol. 2 (Recorded at Detroit's Fox Theatre in 1964), Motortown Revue In Paris (recorded at the Olympia Theatre in 1965), and Motortown Revue Live! (recorded at the Fox Theatre in 1969).

The revue was filmed during a December 1962 week-long stand at the Apollo Theater, and in 1963 Motown released audio edits from the films as a series of live LPs. The films themselves have never had an authorized exhibition other than occasional brief snippets in a Motown TV special.

"My name is Charles J. Dorkins. I am a film maker, operating as C.J. Dorkins Productions, headquartered in New York City. I had earned some fame as a skilled film technician. I was good. I had been invited to be the first black member of the Screen (Film) Directors Guild, headquartered in Hollywood. I declined. I was working professionally in all phases of movie production.

On June 1, 1963, I signed a deal to film the Motown Apollo show, playing at the Apollo. On June 4, 1963, I filmed the Motown show on the stage of the Apollo. For many years I had been seeking to film the fabulous live shows which appeared. My goal was to repeat the Apollo shows at theaters throughout the U.S. I had a letter of permission (from Bobby Schiffman, manager of the Apollo - January 13, 1953) to film the shows. I could not find the funding. If I could have filmed even one of those spectacular shows, I would be wealthy today. Then, the touring Motown show appeared at the Apollo, for a week's engagement. Motown probably discovered me through Bobby Schiffman. With a hurried contract and a small cash contribution, I swung into action. I had days (less than a week) to accomplish the feat. I set up the sound recording with my buddy, Lenny Lencina. To surely capture the photography, I hired the top guys of Local 644, the cameraman's union. I placed president of the union on the master-shot camera (His camera was slightly tilted). I placed a very experienced guy down front to capture close-ups of the performers (He spent half of the show focusing his camera). I placed the third camera in the upper box seats. I assigned this camera to the only black member of the crew. (We were filming in Harlem.) He was the least experienced member of the crew. But surprisingly he did the best job. The filming was not fabulous. With my concept of a concert film, I did not wish to show the audience. I was ready to roll! Except: at the last moment Local 52 (the soundmen's union) made me replace my friend Lenny with a black soundman of their choice. I edited the shooting into a one hour concert film. I made a deal with a distributor. On August 8, 1963, I left for the Congo (to give my assistance to the Angola revolution). On the way to Africa, I stopped in Athens to marry Miss Greece. I telephoned my distributor to find out how much had been deposited in my account. Nothing! Motown refused to permit the exhibit of "Motown At The Apollo" with that bad sound track that the substitute soundman delivered. He had killed the orchestra and the audience. There was no marriage. On to Leopoldville. This part one of the story."

It was from a live Motortown Revue performance that Little Stevie Wonder got his first big hit, the 1963 #1 hit "Fingertips (Pt. 2)". Motown CEO Berry Gordy, Jr. noted in his biography, To Be Loved, that the Revue was used to showcase Stevie Wonder in the days before he had his first hit. Also, Smokey Robinson and the other Miracles composed songs such as "The Way You Do the Things You Do" and "My Girl" while on the road, which later became hits for The Temptations. The Miracles, Motown's first star act, always closed the show.

After becoming a major force in the music industry during the mid-1960s, Motown continued to organize group tours under the Motortown Revue name. Later tours from the mid-1960s on covered the entire United States, and the rest of the world as well.

"Charles J. Dorkins continues his story about “Motown At The Apollo.”

February 15, 1985; Mexico City airport, I was waiting to board an American Airlines flight to New York. I hadn’t seen a U.S. newspaper for a few weeks and I hungrily consumed USA-Today. - And there was! - A one paragraph story: “Motown announces the planned TV production: “Motown Celebrates 25 Years at the Apollo” I had struck the jackpot! Since 1963, 22 YEARS ago!, I had sheltered the discredited concert film I had shot. In storage rooms, closets, the corners of rooms. But now . . . . ! As soon as I arrived in Manhattan, I telephoned Esther Edwards (sister of Berry Gordy, founder of Motown), in Detroit. Of course she was surprised to hear my story. Motown had forgotten all about me. Esther was there when I was contracted to film the stage show. What a nice lady! She had remained in Detroit to operate the “Motown Museum,” after Motown had moved to Hollywood. Esther shepherded me through my negotiations to sell Motown my interest in the film. Like I said, she was a nice lady. In a few days Motown reps showed up to inspect the 35mm black&white negative, and check the quality of the sound tape. Surprisingly, everything was in excellent condition. Hollywood called me, “Ship the film to us, immediately.” My answer: “No way. I will deliver the material personally. Send me a ticket and make hotel reservations. See you soon.” I boarded the plane with the film in my shoulder bag. In Motown's sleek Hollywood office, at Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, in Los Angeles, I signed the contract - and received my check. I went to the bank downstairs and cashed the check. “All hundreds, please.” See you later, I.R.S. April 15, 1985 End of part two."

A four-CD box set compiling the four issued albums of Motortown Revue live performances was released by Motown/Hip-O select in 2002, celebrating the Revue's 40th anniversary. Motortown Revue: 40th Anniversary Collection collected the various artists Motown releases Motortown Revue, Vol. 1 Recorded Live at the Apollo (1963), Motortown Revue Vol. 2 (recorded at Detroit's Fox Theatre in 1964), Motortown Revue in Paris (recorded at the Olympia Theatre in 1965), and Motortown Revue Live! (recorded at the Fox Theatre in 1969).

"Motown 25 Years At The Apollo, May 5, 1985: The Video Production:

"Motown Returns to the Apollo"

Charles J. Dorkins presents his personal observations. “Mr. Dorkins, meet us at 7 in the subway at Rockefeller Center, at 49th Street and Sixth Avenue. Wear your tux." (Tux? Who’s got a tux?) Somehow, I managed to arrive on time. I was the only guy in sight not wearing a tuxedo. What a sight I beheld! A special subway train waited to greet the spectacular crowd. The immaculate three or four coach train, sporting a total red carpet throughout. Everyone (except me) was in dazzling, colorful evening wear. The special “A-Train,” to Harlem’s 125th Street was serenaded by Motown hits as we expressed north. After an exciting twenty minute ride, we exited at 125th Street; red carpeting led the way from the train, upstairs to the street. The station was immaculate! Exiting to St. Nicholas Avenue, two blocks of red carpet led to the Apollo. At that moment, 125th St. must have been the safest place in the world! Thousands of cops, with their gold braided top officers filled the blocked off street. I’ll say this right now: Motown sure knows how to throw a party! The producer/director of this spectacle was Suzanne De Passe, who had signed my film sale to Motown. I was a member of the VIP party. We were led upstairs to the Apollo mezzanine. Now, I had been attending the Apollo for more than forty years but this was the first time I had ever been above the orchestra. All Apollo performances were directed straight ahead - at the orchestra seats. All comedians got great laughs by the belittling the peasants upstairs, and the snobs and the gay exhibitionist in the box seats. With a sold out performance, my choice was always to stand behind the orchestra. Comedian Bill Cosby was the host of the show. Now, I’m an expert on the stars of Motown - who they are, and their history. Therefore, in this show, I was “turned off” by the presentation of new, young performers, who were not superstars, and would never be - and some “superstars” who had no talent, and performers who had nothing to do with the Apollo experience. Film clips of Motown members which I had shot on this same stage twenty years ago were shown throughout the show. But the most dramatic event happened at the end of the show: Without doubt, the true queen of Motown was Diana Ross. Diana had an engagement in Atlantic City at the time as the Apollo show. At the end of the video show, all of the performers were grouped around George Michael, a British recording star, singing the closing song; “I Know What Love Is” - end of show. - But wait a minute! At the last second, Diana Ross rushed to center-stage, and she repeated the song, with everyone. She had surely franticly flown from Atlantic City after her show there. This was the show ending used in the completed video. At the end of the taping, we VIP’s were ushered out of a side door to 126th Street - more red carpet! Wow! Surprise! On the playground of the city school across the narrow street, was a huge white tent! Inside, were many gold chandeliers, emitting a luxurious gold glow. The tuxedoed waiters looked as if the entire Columbia University football team had been hired. Dinner was served. When I asked for a Coke - “Sorry, we only have Champaigne.” What? Like I said, Motown sure knows how to throw a party! A few weeks later, the show was broadcast in prime time. I was greatly surprised when I got a call right after the show closed. It was Ruby, in Mexico City! She had seen a two second shot of me sitting on the mezzanine. Amazing! "Motown Returns to the Apollo," won the Emmy as the best video of the year. Many years later I was able to buy a 2-disc copy of the show, “Motown Returns to the Apollo,” on EBAY. There were Chinese subtitles throughout the DVD. But that’s another story.