Charles Randolph Wright, LaRita Shelby, Berry Gordy, Lee Bailey, Smokey Robinson
*What would it be like to sit down with Motown founder Berry Gordy, Jr., Smokey Robinson and “Motown The Musical” director Charles Randolph Wright? Well the day finally came, and as a select pool of the media entered the palatial setting of Hollywood’s Pantages Theatre, there was an air of ecstasy in the building. Press from major networks, to the Los Angeles Sentinel, and local radio & TV outlets rounded out the list of special invitees.
Our turn finally came, a sportily clad Lee Bailey got into position, our media team from Oakhouse Pictures set their mics and trained their cameras on two men that made history, and one man whose job was to orchestrate it in the present time to Broadway precision and theatrical proportions worthy of an Emmy Award. I could feel a “selfie” coming on, though I rarely point the camera towards myself. There was only one other occasion when I felt such an urge, and that was when Linda Morgan hosted a cavalcade of jazz legends to be honored at city hall. With the legends in the group shot, I was satisfied just to snap a shot of my mug in the foreground to prove that I was there! Aim, smile, “click.” Well that’s just what I was about to do as Lee, Smokey, Berry, Charles and our crew were getting in position when I heard press and marketing agent Linda Stewart say: “What are you doing?” While aborting the attempt, I replied: ‘Taking a selfie for social media.’ Which was the truth, but when it came to being in the midst of Motown royalty, all bets were off, my professional cap was barely hanging on, I was a FAN! I was all in and proud of the men who gave my mama & daddy and ‘nem something to sing and dance about against the back drop of an America that was deprived of their civil rights and fighting to stand up and be counted.
Ironically, on this afternoon in 2015, Baltimore was ablaze over another fallen, and unarmed black male at the hands of police. It was yet in the aftermath of the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott and many more. I wanted to ask Mr. Gordy and Mr. Robinson how they managed to birth romance out of rage and dance out of desolation in the 1960’s when their musical caravans surely rode through paths of cruel and usual punishment, and strange fruit on Southern streets and trees. However this interview was delegated to the media legend himself, Mr. Lee Bailey. It was time for Broadway’s Motown The Musical to descend upon Hollywood, in the heart of Los Angeles, Motown’s second home and now residence to many of the people that it had made known to the world.
The interview concluded, although it was hard to adhere to the 10 minute time frame, just one question could evoke twenty five years of memories. Berry Gordy spoke with the authority of a proud general who had brought his musical troops safely through their mission. Smokey Robinson reveled as more than just a sultry two stepping crooner, but as a steady co-pilot who kept the whole operation grounded, and Mr. Charles Randolph Wright revealed skills that are clearly majestic, in being able to intertwine so many complex stories, songs, and chapters into a mere two hours that equal the magical soundtrack of our lives. It was now time for the official group shot. I was jumping in at all costs just to prove that one day I was in the same room as Berry Gordy. Well, as if the story could not get any better, when Mr. Bailey took the occasion to formally introduce me, Mr. Gordy stopped him and quickly informed Mr. Bailey that he “knew Rita” and that “he had heard of Rita already.” Like a deer in headlights I thought, ‘Who me?!” I threw him a couple of my favorite lines from Mahogany, thanked him and I’ve been acting “siditty” every since. My day, my week, my life was made in that moment! Guess that’s the way it goes, once you encounter Motown, you’re never quite the same, kinda like ‘sunshine on a cloudy day.’
To top it off, when show time finally came for me, I had the great fortune of attending with my charming and debonair date, who is a family member of one of the persons characterized in the show. I had no idea until a day or so before the show. Edna Anderson Owens, that’s her name and I met the real fabulous dame once in a day that was just as serendipitous . Sending loving thoughts to her and to all the folks to helped to make it happen- musicians, promoters, administrators, executives, choreographers, costumers, and artists. Thank you Mr. Berry Gordy, you did it sir. Somebody had to be the heavy, and it was you. You endured, you prevailed and the world will never be the same because you came. Your story is finally told, your way. Motown The Musical is playing now through June 7th 2015 at the Hollywood Pantages, then the national tour continues to select cities through 2016. It is presented by Kevin McCollum, Doug Morris and Berry Gordy. Special discounts are available. Click here.
EUR BONUS COVERAGE: Check out Lee Bailey chat’s with Mr. Gordy, Smokey Robinson and Charles Randolph-Wright about the man himself and his “Motown The Musical” stage production.