HAA On the A – The Future of Motown
When Motown is mentioned, most people want to strike a glamorous pose like The Supremes or literally start “Dancing in the Street” to the sounds of Martha & the Vandellas. Such was the case during “A Tribute to the Music of Motown” presented by Harlem Arts Alliance member Carnegie Hall at the Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage. The homage was produced by Chew Entertainment’s Harlem native Ray Chew and Vivian Scott Chew.
The event had perfect timing, being that Motown recently appointed singer-songwriter Ne-Yo as their Senior VP of A&R, in an effort to advance the label. However, before looking forward, the concert took it back with Ray Chew’s opening cover of “Get Ready.” The rollicking energy of the latter tune was maintained by Melba Moore’s medley of The Supremes’ hits. Paul Schaeffer performed “Love is Here and Now You’re Gone,” and well, the weather was nice.
Many of the evening’s performers, such as Martha Reeves, attest that Harlem was a rite of passage during their beginning years; where they mastered the presentation skills taught to them by Motown legend, Maxine Powell. Powell co-founded the label’s artist development unit in the 1960’s and helped groom virtually every act on the roster. While most modern record companies forsake Powell’s work in the quest to generate hits, she hopes that Ne-Yo avoids such trends. “Singers do what they know how to do, but some of them, I don’t understand what they’re saying. I teach staying power and I don’t get the credit that I should,” she notes.
Perhaps Powell’s handler, a man who claims to be “Roderick Spencer,” also feels that she deserves more since he initially tried to charge me $20 to interview Powell. He then had the audacity to request that a nearby fan pay for a picture with her. I was appalled at Spencer’s unprofessional demands. Hopefully ethics is something that Ne-Yo will also instill in his team, since a negative entourage can hinder an artist’s success.
With that incident behind me, I headed to the VIP reception area where Moore expressed her hopes that Ne-Yo will offer business insight to veteran stars. “We have a whole new set of ideas in terms of entrepreneurism, so they can advise us now. This is how you meld the old with the new,” she said.
While holding a teddy bear inspired by her hit “Come and Get These Memories,” Reeves stated that in order for Ne-Yo to make an impact, he will need to bring back live musicians. “Musicians made the songs. Anybody can sing it, but the music is what’s important. You can’t get that from a synthesizer.”
For Dennis Edwards of The Temptations, the key is artist development, especially concerning style. “We were taught to be clean every time you saw us. It looks better that way when you’re in the arts.” On that note, Ne-Yo may want to employ the expertise and wisdom of Powell as he aims to revitalize the label. But, I’m pretty sure it’ll cost him more than $20.
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This article is courtesy of our partner The Harlem Arts Alliance. For more information on HAA please visit: www.harlemaa.org