On an overcast summer evening on Monday, August 8, even the threat of rain couldn’t stop the energetic atmosphere on the grounds of the Motown Museum in Detroit as a large crowd enjoyed homegrown stars in all their glory.
Smokey Robinson and Temptations’ Otis Williams (along with other Motown alumni) and local and state dignitaries graced the city that day as they helped present a first-look experience during a Motown Museum expansion event.
The new Rocket Plaza and Hitsville NEXT – two phases of the highly anticipated Motown Museum expansion – are new elements of Motown that celebrate the next steps of the historic museum’s new educational programming and creative hub, and the newly established Rocket Plaza through a $5 million contribution from Rocket Companies and the Gilbert Family Foundation.
“The vision for this ambitious project that was first announced in 2016—and that so many generous and committed supporters have contributed to—is now a reality,” said Motown Museum Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry. “Not only are we back—but we are back, bigger and better than ever.”
“Rocket Companies and the Gilbert Family Foundation are dedicated to making philanthropic investments that build a strong social and economic foundation for all Detroiters,” said Rizik, Chief Tax Officer at Rock Holdings in a press release. “The history of Motown is inextricably linked with the history and legacy of Detroit, and we are proud to support the expansion of the Motown Museum. This expansion will both celebrate our history and will be a strong foundation for the next generation of musicians, entrepreneurs and proud Detroiters.”
During the event, Terry said that Detroit is finally being recognized for its strengths and beauty in the arts.
“What we challenge the world to imagine is that through art, we can make the world a better place,” Robinson said, adding that Hitsville is place “where people can see themselves in the present and the future.”
“A place where something like Hitsville NEXT allows people from any generation to come together to create and to create things that literally were impossible before they became connected,” she said adding that while new singers are cropping up, paying homage to the originals is key, too. “Nobody can do what Smokey Robinson did.”
In between performances, nostalgic speeches and nods to musical greats in the crowd, Robinson thanked his Motown family, his fans and his faith for being able to continue in the show business industry for over 60 years – and he’s excited to see what’s next while standing right where it all began for him.
“It (Motown) was not just our workplace where we came to make records and see each other,” Robinson said. “We did everything together. You see all these people who are still here … we are still family. I love all you guys I’m always loving. You have been my brothers and sisters for my whole life. And I’m so proud to see all of you here this evening.”
He added that making music that touches people still today is something he still cherishes.
The festivities of the evening were highlighted by commentary from Williams, an original founding member of The Temptations who gifted microphones to the museum from his personal collection.
Williams said during the event that he never would have believed he is still going strong 60 years in this industry.
“I am really happy to be part of something,” he said of Motown.
Hitsville NEXT offers a signature slate of impactful, community-focused programs, workshops and events designed to activate and inspire future generations of creatives, artists and entrepreneurs. Headquartered within three historic, Motown-era buildings at 2654-2658 W. Grand Boulevard—previously owned by Motown Records—Hitsville NEXT now features professional recording pods, community activation space and premier programming to foster emerging talent. Programs featured in the Hitsville NEXT line up include its spoken word competition Motown Mic; Amplify, a singing competition; The Lyric Project songwriting workshop; and its Ignite and Spark summer camps.
The immersive Rocket Plaza will serve as a welcome destination for museum visitors, meant to inspire joy and creative collaboration with regularly activated performances by local talent and unique opportunities for emerging entrepreneurs. Inspired by a time when young Motown acts like Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops and so many others, would hang out in front of Motown’s headquarters, the Plaza will serve as the ultimate Motown-inspired community gathering space. Museum visitors will arrive at a beautifully lit granite paver expanse, surrounded by colorful flowers, lush plantings, park benches and a pop-up performance stage surrounded by a sound system playing their favorite Motown hits. Hitsville NEXT and the Rocket Plaza were designed by Detroit-based architectural firm Hamilton Anderson & Associates. The expansion design is led by the North Carolina practice of global architecture and design firm Perkins&Will.
As the institution completes these important construction milestones, the museum is welcoming the community to its Founder’s Day celebration in honor of its late founder Esther Gordy Edwards, the reopening and the completed expansion phases, on Saturday, Aug. 13 from 12-5 p.m. Community vendors and performances from Hitsville NEXT program participants will be highlights of the day, with entertainment on the new plaza, allowing the local Detroit community to experience Motown magic together. Founder’s Day is an annual, free and open to the public celebration hosted by Motown Museum.
The museum is also welcoming visitors back for tours of Hitsville U.S.A. beginning Sunday, Aug. 14 following pandemic- and construction-related closures. The tours resuming on Aug. 14 will be a soft reopening with the museum offering abbreviated walking tours of portions of Hitsville U.S.A., including Studio A and the museum’s campus, as the museum’s singular elevator is out of service due to water damage that occurred in summer 2021. The museum is anticipating full tours will resume on Saturday, Oct. 1. Guests and groups can purchase tour tickets at motownmuseum.org.
For more information on Founder’s Day and to book museum tours, visit www.motownmuseum.org.