I’m a huge fan of Motown Music. There are so many great songs and voices, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But not only is Motown’s music some of the best, true American music ever produced, it was also a powerful force in the Civil Rights Movement.
Berry Gordy, who started Motown didn’t get directly involved in civil rights himself, he left that to Martin Luther King, Jr. and the NAACP, although he did support them by donating money.
Gordy and Motown’s contribution to the movement was more subtle, but no less important. By having his artists present themselves with poise and sing songs blacks and whites could both relate to, he helped bridge the racial divide in the U.S.
Even the song lyrics served this purpose. On the surface many Motown songs are about love, romance, having fun, but if you dig a little deeper, many of them had other meanings you could take away from them as well.
Take Aretha Franklin’s “Think” for example. On the surface, it seems like a song about a troubled relationship,
I ain’t no psychiatrist,
I ain’t no doctor with degrees,
but it don’t take too much IQ,
to see what you’re doin’ to me.
but you can also see that it’s a song about the state of affairs in the U.S. at the time and the wish that people will come together.
The “freedom” refrain shows this and this line:
You need me and I need you,
Without each other, there ain’t nothing neither can do.
Songs like this did a lot to carry Dr. King’s peaceful message forward, while at the same time bringing people together with great music.
Think about when you go to a concert. You’re all there because you have at least ONE thing in common, you like the band or artist you are there to see. Music, by itself in this way is an amazing unifier. Because of this, it helped propel the movement forward in ways that may not even have been conscious or obvious at the time, but are entirely evident now.
What is your favorite Motown song?