Since writing the Ultimate Michigan Bucket List, I have crossed off many items on the list but there was one that was only an hour away that I still had not visited. After wanting to visit for years, I finally made it to Hitsville U.S.A., The Motown Museum.
Located on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, The Motown Museum is housed in the former home of Motown Records. Berry Gordy Jr. founded Tamla Records in 1959 after receiving a $3 royalty check for a song that he wrote. His friend, Smokey Robinson, suggested that if he was going to make so little, he would be better off going into business for himself. Gordy bought the home that would become known as Hitsville U.S.A. The Gordy Family lived on the top floor and the first floor was converted into an office and recording studio. The home is now connected to the home next door where the museum and gift shop are located. Within 7 years of purchasing Hitsville U.S.A., Gordy would purchase 6 additional homes on the block and convert them into a publishing office, finance department, artist personal development, and administration offices. The Museum owns most of these houses today.
Gordy moved Motown Records to Los Angeles in 1972 but his sister, Esther Gordy Edwards refused to relocate so she stayed behind and was put in charge of what remained of Motown in Detroit. She received several requests from fans wanting to visit Hitsville U.S.A. so she hung posters and gold records and by 1985, The Motown Museum opened to the public.
In 1988 Michael Jackson donated a black fedora and a rhinestone-studded glove (left) along with $125,000, the proceeds of the first show of his Bad World Tour to the Motown Museum.
In 2011, Paul McCartney visited the museum and wanted to play the 1877 Steinway Piano in Studio A only to find that it was not in playing condition. McCartney had the piano shipped to Steinway and repaired and returned to play it at a charity event with Berry Gordy in 2012.
As of January 2024, the current exhibit is Claudette Robinson: A Motown Her-Story. Claudette Robinson was one of the founding members of the Miracles, the first group to be signed by Motown. Before beginning her singing career, Claudette served in the Marines during the Korean War. Claudette married bandmate Smokey Robinson and had two children Tamla and Berry.
Hitsville U.S.A. can only be seen on a guided tour. Our guide was very knowledgeable and passionate about Motown and its history. The tour ends in Studio A with a song and dance session to My Girl. So, I can say that I have sang and danced in Studio A. As of January 2024, admission to the museum comes with a copy of Berry Gordy Jr.’s autobiography. The museum is open Wednesday-Sunday 10-6 and admission is $20 for adults and $17 for children and seniors.
It is important to note that the museum is planning on expanding. The expansion will include interactive exhibits, a recording studio, a performance space, and a cafe. A guided tour will not be required in the new space. They are anticipating opening in 2025, but since it has yet to break ground, I am skeptical it will be open by then.
If you are planning on coming to Detroit, I highly recommend a stop at the Motown Museum. While I knew some of the history as the child of a music nut, I learned a lot on the tour (Did you know Martin Luther King Jr. gave his I Have a Dream Speech at Cobo Hall in Detroit before Washington D.C.?). We got very lucky walking in and getting the last two spots for the next tour so I do recommend purchasing your tickets online in advance at MotownMuseum.org.
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