Role Model Berry Gordy – No Town Like Motown

Go Lean Commentary

CU Blog - Role Model Berry Gordy - No Town Like Motown - PhotoThis is a memorable dialogue:

Berry Gordy: You went from singing love songs to now anti-war songs. I understand you want to reflect change in society…

Marvin Gaye (interrupting): I don’t want to reflect change, I want to effect change.

Thus the alignment of the Broadway play Motown, The Musical and the book Go Lean…Caribbean. It is an established fact that any difficult subject can be more easily communicated if backed-up by a catchy melody and rhyming words. An underlying theme of the above-cited play, based on the autobiographical story of Motown founder Berry Gordy, is that music effected change in America and forged integration and elevation of society.

By: Robert Simonson

Title: No Town Like Motown: Navigating the Life, Times and Tunes of Starmaker Berry Gordy

First-time Broadway director Charles Randolph-Wright is at the helm of one of the more pulse-quickening titles of the season, Motown: The Musical, about record producer Berry Gordy’s heyday.

In terms of backstage politics, Charles Randolph-Wright may have the trickiest job of any director working on Broadway this spring. He is staging Motown: The Musical, a musically overflowing new show about the life and career of recording mogul Berry Gordy.

One of his producers is Berry Gordy as well. Gordy completes his hat trick by having written the libretto for the piece.

“Sometimes I’ll forget the person I’m talking to is the same person that is depicted on stage,” said Randolph-Wright.

One imagines such waters are difficult to navigate. What if Producer Gordy tells the director not to interfere with Writer Gordy’s work? “It’s something we talked about from the beginning,” said Randolph-Wright. “He’s very open as to what the story is.”

The show, which is playing at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, is largely based on Gordy’s 1995 memoir “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown.”

“He wrote the book 20 years ago,” Randolph-Wright explained. “Now he has an even different perspective on that. You have to ask, ‘How do we tell the story of this big character, who is based on this real person, and yet that person is involved with the creation of the show, and is working on it?’ It’s a challenge, but the way we have worked is a very open process.”

Randolph-Wright recalled one particular moment when Gordy confided in him an episode from his past when he was at his most vulnerable. “We were walking around and he told me this story. I couldn’t believe it. I said, ‘You want that on stage?’ I thought it was very brave. But at this point at his life, what does he have to prove?”

Randolph-Wright added that Gordy, now 83, has no trouble juggling his many roles. After all, it is something he’s been doing for decades. “In most cases that would be a challenge,” he said. “But he spent his whole career wearing so many different hats. When I’m with the writer, that’s who I’m with. The producer is a different person. I am always with the person who’s doing all those things, but in each separate instance I’m with who Berry is at that moment.”

Charles Randolph-Wright was one of several directors who interviewed with Gordy. From the start, he thought he was right for the project. “This is in my DNA,” he said. He doesn’t mean that he grew up with Motown’s music (as many of us did) — though that is part of it. His connection to the material is more complex. “I’ve done every angle of this story. I’ve been in a music group. I’ve danced to the music. I’ve sung it. And I’ve lived in all those worlds he did, though not the same way he did.”

When the marquee was hung on the Lunt-Fontanne, Randolph-Wright glanced down the street and noticed he was only yards away from the Imperial Theatre. In the early 1980s he passed through the stage door of that theatre every night as a member of the original cast of Dreamgirls — the fictional account of the rise of The Supremes, a group Gordy helped found. “What’s happened in those years from that show to this show, it’s been an amazing journey,” he mused. “From the Broadway musical version of this story to the real story.”

Motown‘s greatest asset is the iconic song­book the Detroit-based record label produced; and they’ll get ample helpings of that hit parade, including songs made famous by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles (“Shop Around”), Diana Ross and The Supremes (“Stop! In the Name of Love”), Marvin Gaye (“What’s Going On”), Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, and Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five (“I Want You Back”).

Randolph-Wright said it was hard, given the rich catalogue, deciding which songs to keep in the show and which to leave out. “Every song you hear in this show, you want to hear,” he said. “But how do you put this journey into two and a half hours? There’s so much, so many people. They’re all part of this story. But we found out how to take the story and condense what could easily have been a miniseries.” He said he wouldn’t know the exact song count until opening night, but promised the show would contain more numbers than does your average musical.

To sing the classic pop hits, the director has assembled a large cast, including Valisia LeKae as Diana Ross and Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson — both particular Gordy favorites. Brandon Victor Dixon will play Gordy himself.

Randolph-Wright said he didn’t want note-by-note recreations of their numbers, “I want [the actors] to evoke these artists, not copy them, not be an impersonator. But it has to be the Motown sound. The actors have been tremendous in finding those things that make them seem real as those people.”

The tunes will be used in various ways. Some will be presented as straightforward performances; others will be used as narrative tissue, to further along the story. In addition, the score will include three or four new songs, written by Gordy expressly for the musical.

The director has found it a particular delight to see Gordy returning to his songwriting roots. “We forget that he wrote a lot of those early hits. Over the years, as Motown grew, he became less about being an artist, and more about being a businessman. It’s thrilling to see him become completely creative again.”

(This feature appears in the March 2013 issue of Playbill magazine.)
Play Bill Broadway Magazine/Web Site (Posted March 10, 2013; Retrieved 08-06-2014) –

Like Berry Gordy, the prime directive of the Go Lean book is also to elevate society, but in the Caribbean, not in America, by integrating a confederated brotherhood. In fact, the declarative statements are as follows:

  • Optimization of the economic engines in order to grow the regional economy to $800 Billion & create 2.2 million new jobs.
  • Establishment of a security apparatus to protect the resultant economic engines.
  • Improve Caribbean governance to support these engines.

Berry Gordy accomplished his mission through music/song and entertainment. The book Go Lean…Caribbean strives to accomplish its mission with the introduction and implementation of the technocratic Caribbean Union Trade Federation (CU). Berry Gordy is hereby recognized as a role model that the Caribbean can emulate. He has provided a successful track record of forging change, overcoming incredible odds, managing crises to successful conclusions and rebooting failing institutions. The Go Lean book, serving as a roadmap, initiates with a “Prologue” that identifies community ethos that must be embraced for any chance of success and permanent change. This list of ethos from the book corresponds with the history of Berry Gordy, as portrayed in the Motown, The Musical Broadway play:

Go Lean…Caribbean Berry Gordy Role Modeling
Job Multipliers Economic Opportunities
Future Focus Crossover / Integration
Foster Genius Producing Artists
Help Entrepreneurship New Record Labels, Movies
Promote Intellectual Property Music Business Excellence
Research & Development New Artists Development
Bridge the Digital Divide Embrace of New Media
Improve Negotiations Hollywood Interactions
Impact Turn-Around Move from Detroit
Manage Reconciliations Motown Reunions
Improve Sharing Common Studios/Producers
Promote Happiness Music Essential to Life
Greater Good Impact Society

“No town like Motown” is the title of the foregoing article from the PlayBill magazine. But the Berry Gordon legacy is not the town of Detroit, but rather the musical contributions of his movement. It should be noted that Gordy moved the record company, Motown, out of the failed-city of Detroit, early in the 1970’s. So Gordy’s legacy is really how he grew in his management of change!

According to the opening dialogue, Berry Gordy was a reluctant advocate of change; he tried to be a businessman first. In the end, he conducted a lot of business, but he effected change as well. Thank you Marvin Gaye for that inspiration, for impacting Berry Gordy with the lesson that “one man, and his music” can make difference.

The Go Lean book accepts that the business of music can have a major impact on Caribbean society and the world. Already, this commentary has analyzed how a Caribbean music artist has made an impact on the world scene, with this post: Bob Marley: The legend lives   on!

In the Go Lean roadmap to elevate the Caribbean, the eco-systems of music get due respect. This point is detailed in the  Declaration of Interdependence at the outset of the book, pronouncing this need for regional solutions (Page 14):

xxxii. Whereas the cultural arts and music of the region are germane to the quality of Caribbean life, and the international appreciation of Caribbean life, the Federation must implement the support systems to teach, encourage, incentivize, monetize and promote the related industries for arts and music in domestic and foreign markets. These endeavors will make the Caribbean a better place to live, work and play.

The Go Lean roadmap accepts that change has come to the music business. It is no longer the same world that was dominated by Berry Gordy, and his cast of musical geniuses. Now, there is the need for some technocratic facilitations. The book posits that this burden is too big for any one Caribbean member-state, and thus the collaboration efforts of the CU is necessary, as the strategy is to confederate all the 30 member-states of the Caribbean despite their language and legacy, into an integrated “single market”. This will allow for better leverage of the consumer market for the consumption of music. From this eco-system, should emerge our own generations of Berry Gordy’s in the Caribbean to impact the world with their art, music, and contributions.

Today, most music is consumed digitally with a lot of retailing via the world wide web. This changed landscape now requires new tools and protections, like electronic payment systems, digital rights management and Performance Rights Organizations. The Go Lean/CU roadmap details these solutions. With these efforts and investments, the returns will be undeniable. The CU is designed to do the heavy-lifting of organizing Caribbean society, and interacting with the wide-world to better reap the benefits of music and related eco-systems. The following list details the strategies, tactics, implementations and advocacies to foster the next Motown movement, Caribbean style:

Community   Ethos – Forging Change Page 20
Community Ethos – Lean Operations Page 24
Community   Ethos – Return on Investments Page 24
Strategy –   Strategy – Caribbean Vision Page 45
Strategy –   Agents of Change – Globalization Page 57
Tactical –   Growing the Caribbean Economy to $800   Billion Page 67
Separation   of Powers – Central Bank – Electronic Payment Deployments Page 73
Tactical –   Separation of Powers – Patents & Copyrights Page 78
Separation   of Powers – Culture Administration Page 81
Planning –   Ways to Make the Caribbean Better Page 131
Planning    – Lessons Learned from Detroit Page 140
Advocacy   – Ways to Grow the Economy Page 151
Advocacy   – Ways to Create Jobs Page 152
Advocacy –   Reforms for Banking Regulations Page 199
Advocacy –   Ways to Impact Hollywood Page 203
Advocacy –   Ways to Promote Music Page 231
Appendix –   Caribbean Music Genres Page 347
Appendix –   Protecting Music Copyrights Page 351

The Go Lean roadmap has simple motives: enable the Caribbean to be a better place to live, work and play. One man, or woman, can make a difference in this quest. We want to foster the next generation of “stars’ in music and other fields of endeavor.

According to his autobiography and the Broadway musical, Berry Gordy was inspired by other role models in his youth, i.e. Joe Louis. Now the world in general, the Caribbean is particular, is being inspired by Berry Gordy.

This is how to reflect and effect change in society. That opening dialogue with Marvin Gaye and Berry Gordy is captured for our inspiration. The end result:

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Father, father
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Download the book Go Lean … Caribbean – now!

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