Compassionate, socially-conscious music holds deep roots in Detroit. Hitsville U.S.A anthems produced during turbulent periods of the 1960s and ’70s, like Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancing in the Street” and Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?,” explored sentiments of racial and political injustices alike.
What happened in the streets, and through the music, back then still echoes in outcries of protesters today. It’s no coincidence that the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy Jr., once put up a sign in front of the now-famed museum that read: “The Sound of Young America,” knowing that it often was, and still is, the voices of younger generations that create change. Knowing this, the Motown Museum is now offering a new virtual songwriting course for teens called the Motown Museum Lyric Project.
“Motown has always been on the forefront of encouraging and empowering social change, amplifying the voices of people and perspectives that need to be heard,” says Robin Terry, CEO and chairwoman of the Motown Museum, in a press release. “This is why we are so excited to offer a program honoring that legacy and attuned to this extraordinary moment in our nation’s history.”
Southeast Michigan residents ages 13 to 18 can now register for the Motown Museum Lyric Project, with no prior experience necessary. Running from July 27 to Aug. 7, the two-week workshop aims to provide young songwriters, singers, and musicians with the skills needed to communicate their beliefs through lyrics and song. Through live sessions, clinics, and independent exercises comprised of mini video lessons, participants will cover the basics of songwriting and music production while sharing ideas, collaborating with others, and receiving feedback.
Aside from technical training, participants will uncover the tradition of protest songs through the music that shaped history. Through examining Motown’s monumental past, emerging songwriters will learn how to contribute, influence, and inspire conversations to work toward a better future in the city.
Participants will also have the chance to be one of 10 selected for a private songwriting session as well as the opportunity to write lyrics and compose music with Brian Holland, a producer and songwriter who is behind numerous Motown hits, on the creation of “Song for Hope 2020.” The song will be prepared by Motown’s iconic in-studio band, the Funk Brothers, with musical arranger Paul Riser Sr., and recording by award-winning music director Kern Brantley.
A part of Motown Museum’s Hitsville Next campaign, the Lyric Project marks the first phase of the museum’s expansion in educational and community programming. Intended to motivate and inspire future generations, Hitsville Next aims to help creatives and entrepreneurs learn from the careers of Motown legends.
During the height of Motown, Detroit became the epicenter for innovative music that combined sounds of Black gospel, be-bop, and jazz with messages unlike anything the country had heard before.
From the impressive works of artists like Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, and The Supremes, many Hitsville U.S.A successes have demonstrated, “music is unmatched as a tool for social change and self-expression,” Terry says. “At a time when conversations about social justice are taking place with new urgency and passion, The Motown Museum Lyric Project is a unique opportunity for aspiring young musicians and lyricists to translate their passions onto the page.”