It is the biggest era in history that defined Detroit’s cultural and entertainment legacy, and placed the Motor City on the world map of entertainment.
For decades, the Motown Record Corp., born and nurtured in Detroit, gave the world something to behold. The impact was global, from Europe and Africa to Asia and Australia.
And so as Motown artists like Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Gladys Knight, the Temptations, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Jackson 5 and many others spread their tentacles across the globe, wooing millions of fans, the mark of Detroit as the root of their start was ever present.
That a city as Detroit so often misunderstood would make a stamp on the global landscape of musical prowess is a proud and enriching legacy.
That legacy, started by Motown founder Berry Gordy, cannot be forgotten. It certainly must not be ignored at this time.
That is why as hundreds of people, including Motown alumni, gather this weekend at the Detroit Marriott Renaisance Hotel in downtown Detroit to celebrate the golden jubilee of the birth of this entertainment era called Motown, Detroiters must seize this opportunity to ponder where to go from here.
Detroit cannot ignore the unrealized opportunities that exist in the Motown legacy. This is the time for Detroit to rebrand itself as a major entertainment and cultural hub.
But to do so will require people who have a deep understanding of their history and can respond to it rightly by harnessing the talents and potential in the music and entertainment industry.
The Motown Historical Museum on West Grand Blvd. is a good start. It needs the support of the city as well as those who believe that Detroit can come back as a major entertainment destination.
When I visited Audley Smith, CEO of the museum, Monday afternoon he made it clear that the funds that are being raised this weekend at the 50 Anniversary will be used to run the day-to-day operation of the museum.
Smith indicated that a long-term goal is to expand the museum. That sounds like a good idea.
Then why isn’t the 50th anniversary being used to kick off a major capital campaign to expand the Motown Museum, which today sits as an international depository of global musical elements?
If Detroit hopes to recapture the imagination of the world as it did during the golden days of Motown, the city will have to step up in a major way to make that dream a reality.
The success behind the major tourist destinations of the world today is a greater understanding of the need to add a global element to the treasures that defined the history of those cities.
The world is rushing to those cities because they have positioned themselves as being among the best historical sites to visit for those who are seeking a global perspective on current issues.
The Taj Mahal of India, the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, James Island in Gambia, the Frontiers of the Roman Empire in Germany, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial in Japan, Elmina Castle in Ghana — all these are UNESCO (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Sites. That designation as a global heritage site means a significant increase in international visits, visibility and significance.
Being listed on the World Heritage Center is an instant global appeal with tremendous potential for tourism revenue. That alone could catapult the museum to a new level and expand its capacity to raise funds to sponsor significant projects in the future.
The Motown Museum should strive to be on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
That goal should have been set during the 50th anniversary to push such an entertainment and cultural jewel to the center of the world stage.
Granted, there are international tourists who visit the museum. But it is not the same as being in the global record of the World Heritage List.
Detroit has to start thinking in a more creative way to address the current challenges we are facing. The old ways of doing things will not move this city forward and it certainly does not help the image of the city.
The goal of any leadership ought to be to make Detroit a global city. That effort would begin by giving a global facelift to some of our institutions that have had historic international significance in the past.
And the Motown Historical Museum can do it. The City of Detroit can do it as well.
The musical legacy the museum embodies produced some of the the greatest entertainment stars the world has ever known.
The leaders of the museum as well as leaders of this city owe it to the next generation to leave a lasting legacy that speaks to a Detroit, that encompasses their dreams in music and entertainment.
Detroit cannot fail, not at this time when the eyes of the world are on us.
So this anniversary can be a time to wine and dine and display our fineries as we remember the days when Motown rocked the world, or we can use this moment to take stock of what we have failed to do for Detroit and the Motown Museum.