On the lighter side… The funny side of Motown

diana rossThere is so much more to the Motown story than is generally known. A lot of “funny stuff” happened and a lot of “weird stuff” as well.

For example…

On one occasion, Diana Ross, according to Berry Gordy’s executive assistant at the time, was being difficult, having what might be called “diva tantrums.” Well, Gordy went to her suite, made mad Motown love to her, and the queen of Motown chilled right out.

Speaking of Ross, she once got a beatdown in front of “just everybody,” including Betty LaVette and Martha Reeves, at the 20 Grand. She had been having an affair with Brian Holland, of the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland team that wrote nearly all of the Supremes’ hits, and his wife, Sharon, wasn’t having it.

When Motown signed DeBarge, the family group from Grand Rapids, they were very young and very inexperienced — in life, let alone etiquette. The Motown record promotion man took the group to a very nice (and expensive) restaurant. One of the group members ordered filet mignon, cut his dinner roll in half, inserted his steak, then ate it like a hamburger.

A young female singer — we’re protecting her identity — who had won a Motown recording contract as a result of placing first in a talent show presented by a local black radio station, made a promotional visit to that station. The program director said to her bluntly, “You’ll get a lot of airplay if you’ll be my woman.”

Marvin Gaye proved that he really was a “stubborn kind of fellow” when Motown acquired another male vocalist, J.J. Barnes, who sounded similar. Gaye kicked up such a fuss that nothing Barnes recorded was ever released.

Mary Wilson was doing a book signing for “Dreamgirl: My Life as a Supreme,” at a mall bookstore. A singer from Motown’s early years who wasn’t doing well slipped her a note that said, “Could you let me have $500 until we see each other again?” (She declined.)

Motown had no intention of letting the Spinners join the A-list roster, despite their talent. To keep some money coming group members had to accept non-artist jobs, such as being chauffeurs for other Motown acts. The Spinners didn’t get their props until they signed with Atlantic Records.

Maxine Powell, who operated Motown’s finishing school, offering instruction in poise, etiquette and grooming, said many if not most of the artists were “rude, crude and from the projects.” (Diana Ross was one of her best students.)

After one of numerous skirmishes, Martha Reeves once chased Diana Ross into a phone booth. She called Berry Gordy who told Reeves to leave her alone, regardless of the fact that Ross was the instigator. Years later, Reeves stated, “I was going to fight her.”

I truly love Diana Ross, but here’s one more. Mary Wells. Former Motown artist, was doing a show at Hart Plaza shortly after the airing of “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.” Backstage after the show, Wells was telling a girlfriend about Diana Ross being “high” at the taping.

The girlfriend noticed yours truly, and then in a hushed tone warned Wells that there was reporter standing right behind her. Wells paused for no more than three seconds and said defiantly, “Well, she was!”

Gladys Knight & the Pips only signed with Motown because Knight was outvoted by the Pips.

The Contours, in their heyday, were known for their acrobatic dance routines, doing songs such as their classic “Do You Love Me?”

During a show decades later, the Contours, much older now, were performing and the show was going great. One original member, caught up in the spirit of the moment, decided to do a split like in the old days.

He went down but couldn’t get back up. EMS had to be called. 

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