Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit

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9780674005464: Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit
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Detroit in the 1960s was a city with a pulse: people were marching in step with Martin Luther King, Jr., dancing in the street with Martha and the Vandellas, and facing off with city police. Through it all, Motown provided the beat. This book tells the story of Motown--as both musical style and entrepreneurial phenomenon--and of its intrinsic relationship to the politics and culture of Motor Town, USA. As Suzanne Smith traces the evolution of Motown from a small record company firmly rooted in Detroit's black community to an international music industry giant, she gives us a clear look at cultural politics at the grassroots level. Here we see Motown's music not as the mere soundtrack for its historical moment but as an active agent in the politics of the time. In this story, Motown Records had a distinct role to play in the city's black community as that community articulated and promoted its own social, cultural, and political agendas. Smith shows how these local agendas, which reflected the unique concerns of African Americans living in the urban North, both responded to and reconfigured the national civil rights campaign. Against a background of events on the national scene--featuring Martin Luther King, Jr., Langston Hughes, Nat King Cole, and Malcolm X--Dancing in the Street presents a vivid picture of the civil rights movement in Detroit, with Motown at its heart. This is a lively and vital history. It's peopled with a host of major and minor figures in black politics, culture, and the arts, and full of the passions of a momentous era. It offers a critical new perspective on the role of popular culture in the process of political change.

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Review:

Smith places Motown in its immediate context in the Detroit black community from which it emerged. She presents a focussed account of the city in the grip of social and political change. It is the approach which will endear the book to readers of both music journalism and historical narrative...Smith has used the rich tapestry of the Motown sound to present a truly exceptional book. It is well-argued and thought-provoking.--J. Ahmed "Awaaz "

Smith performs a valuable service in showing that Gordy, rather than being the rugged individualist often depicted, was the product of a hard-working and supportive family, one that had displayed a relentless self-help ethic for generations...To be sure, Smith is mainly concerned with the larger issues, but she does a good job of giving behind-the-scenes glimpses of the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and other Motown myths. While capitalism worked very well for Motown and its principles, Smith concludes, it was a far less effective system in exposing and eradicating the roots of racism.--Edward Morris "Foreword Magazine "

In telling the story of the [Motown] label in its habitat, and telling it as an everyday tale of race in America, Suzanne Smith performs an act of historical rescue.--Andrew Blake "The Independent "

Though we would all count Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas and Marvin Gaye among Motown's greatest recording artists, Suzanne E. Smith would add another: Martin Luther King Jr...[Smith] is correct when she says it has become all but impossible to separate what happened in Detroit in the 1960s from the music that was playing when it did: as Norman Whitfield, the producer who replaced Holland-Dozier-Holland as the label's primary hitmaker, put it in a song he wrote for the Temptations, it was a 'Ball of Confusion.' Thirty years later, we're still unraveling it, and Dancing in the Street affords valuable insights to those of us who were there and those of us who weren't...It is fascinating reading for anyone who believes the sound of young America was not incompatible with the sound of struggle.--Terry Lawson "Detroit Free Press "

Smith details the connection between the rise and success of Motown Records and the more specific histories of Detroit's civil rights struggles...Dancing in the Street does and excellent job of detailing the fine line between the production of goods and the ideology behind that production. Suzanne Smith gives the reader an interesting history of Detroit in the1960s and of Motown and its cultural and musical impact, but she also provides a road map for other studies that seek to use culture as a means to understand larger historical situations.--Kenneth J. Bindas "Historical Review "

The publication of Dancing in the Streets, is an interesting one for an academic press; there's no shortage of general-audience books on the famed soul label, and other books have plumbed the immediate political ramifications of Berry Gordy's family-loan-turned-empire. But Smith aims not to glorify Motown as a can-do parable of black business, but to define it wholly--as a flawed microcosm of Detroit as much as one of black America. At once symptom and synecdoche, Motown is in her eyes the inevitable sum of its influences that somehow reenacted Detroit's external struggles on its own Grand Street stage.--Peter Rubin "Boston Book Review "

[Dancing in the Street discovers] a new approach to what had seemed an exhausted subject. [Suzanne Smith's] self-imposed task is to draw back from the larger picture of Motown's conquest of the international market, setting the company in its immediate context in Detroit, the community from which it emerged and after which it was named, and examining its relationship with the civil-rights struggle...[This book] adds a new dimension to our understanding of the forces that created music which has already outlasted the long hot summers for which it was designed.--Richard Williams "Times Literary Supplement "

Now, thanks to the publication of the fascinating Dancing in the Street music fans as well as lovers of social history can grasp for the first time the unique nature of Detroit's daily social scheme and its impact on the lives of those who embodied the Motown Sound during the parallel cresting of the civil rights movement...Smith takes readers into the heretofore unexamined sphere of Detroit's sidewalk-level social ferment from Motown's founding in 1958 on through the city's devastating riots in 1967 and the related early-'70s flight from its precincts of the two enterprises central to its modern identity...If you've never heard about the Concept East Theater; or of WCHB, the first radio station built, owned, and operated by African-Americans; or never knew about organizations like the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; or the Freedom Now Part (the first all-black political party in the nation), Smith's text will explain their rich legacies.--Timothy White "Billboard "

Suzanne Smith's wonderful new book, Dancing in the Streets: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, seeks to resituate the Motown sound within the history of the Motor City and, more broadly, to reconnect it to the larger historical moment of African American activism that was the 1960s. As Smith reminds us, a Motown hit like 'Dancing in the Street' was 'never just a party song'. From the outset Smith's engaging narrative immerses readers in the fascinating tale of how Motown rose from its humble beginnings in Detroit to become a corporate conglomerate far from its Motor City roots...she must be given tremendous credit for identifying just how powerful and malleable this record company was as a symbol of the tumultuous 1960s.--Heather Ann Thompson "Labor History "

In her scholarly, informative, Dancing in the Street, Suzanne E. Smith reconsiders Motown, not just as the background music of the city's struggles but as a component of black Detroit's march for civil rights and social justice.--Renée Graham "Boston Globe "

Synopsis:

1960s Detroit was a city with a pulse: people were marching in step with Martin Luther King, Jr.; dancing in the street with Martha and the Vandellas; facing off with city police and through it all, Motown provided the beat. This book tells the story of Motown - as both musical style and entrepreneurial phenomenon - and of its intrinsic relationship to the politics and culture of Motor Town, USA. As the author traces the evolution of Motown from a small record company firmly rooted in Detroit's black community to an international music industry giant, she gives us a clear look at cultural politics at the grassroots level. Here we see Motown's music not as the mere soundtrack for its historical moment but as an active agent in the politics of the time. In this story, Motown records had a distinct role to play in the city's black community as the community articulated and promoted its own social, cultural, and political agendas. smith shows how these local agendas, which reflected the unique concerns of African Americans living in the urban north, both responded to and reconfigured the national civil rights campaign.

Against a background of events on the national scene - featuring Martin Luther King Jr. Langston Hughes, Nat King Cole, and Malcom X - this book present a vivid picture of the civil rights movement in detroit, with Motown at its heart. This history is peopled with a host of major and minor figures in black politics, culture, and the arts, and full of the passions of a momentous era, it offers a critical new perspective on the role of popular culture in the process of political change.

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