. . . I’m bringing you a book that’s true
So get ready, so get ready
I’m gonna try to make you love it, too
So get ready, so get ready ’cause here I come
Apologies to the Temptations, but Andrea Davis Pinkney put me in the groove when I read her new book, Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound. This Michigan girl grew up listening to the Motown sound on the radio and my record player, so when I hear “Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch,” I can’t help myself—I’m right back in elementary school, learning the box step with a reluctant sixth-grade boy as my dance partner. Pinkney spins the story of how Berry Gordy brought the Motown sound to the world, starting with only a borrowed $800 and his love of music.
I saw the attractive cover on a bookstore display and had to buy it. The interior design is just as attractive, with record-album page numbers and flowing music staffs bordering the bottoms of the pages. Photos of the major players showcasing the Motown style of perfect hairdos, dresses, and suits include Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and eventually the Jackson 5 starring 10-year-old Michael. Pinkney sets the mood with the voice of the Groove (based on cousin Scoopy’s soul-DJ radio sound) talking us down the highway of Motown history. Much of Gordy’s business plan is inspiring and very successful, but the journey also takes readers through painful civil rights and historical incidents, including the 1967 Detroit race riots and the Vietnam War.
Middle-schoolers may question whether this book is really for them, but oh, child, there is just as much relevance in Marvin Gaye’s lyrics now as when he first wrote them. We can’t help but question, “What’s Going On?”, exploring activism and seeking comfort through song. May the Motown spirit live on.
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, eheh
Lynn: In the author’s note, Pinkney explains the origins of “Groove,” the narrator who guides readers down the Motown highway. I loved this distinctive voice that moves chronologically through the history of Berry Gordy’s barrier-breaking record company. President Obama called the Motown Sound the soundtrack of the Civil Rights Movement, but it was also the soundtrack of my teen years. Sock hops were the highlight of our week back then and it was those Motown platters that we spun over and over! I loved reading about the development of the various groups and stars, the descriptions of how the hometown company worked together, and about how Miss Manners took awkward young singers and turned them into polished performers. Each song title was a memory for me and it made me wish the book came with a CD so young readers could experience that signature sound.
Thank you, Andrea Davis Pinkney,
for this spin through Hitsville USA!
The Groove takes a number of detours on the road, too, and those may be some of the most important pages in this story. Berry Gordy sought to cross racial barriers and give his performers the same venues, audiences, and opportunities as white singers. The history and successes of Motown paralleled and reflected some of the most pivotal events of the era. When I think of those big moments in history, they are accompanied by the voices of Marvin Gaye, Martha Reeves, and Smoky Robinson. And when I think of those high-school sock hops I hear Diana Ross, the Temptations, Gladys Knight, and Little Stevie Wonder. Thank you, Andrea Davis Pinkney, for this spin through Hitsville USA!
Cindy: Lynn, I’m guessing most teens will just hit iTunes, Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube to listen to songs they read about here. Few of them have the capability to listen to compact discs these days. Myself? I switched my XM radio to the Soul channel for weeks after reading this, although an iTunes playlist to match the songs featured in the text would be great. Next up is a trip to Detroit to visit the Motown Museum. How is it that I haven’t been there before?