For the first time since its original telecast, the commemorative variety show, Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, is airing on PBS as part of the public access station’s Black History Month programming. The festive special celebrated the Detroit-based record company’s ability to transform both American popular music and culture.
Initially airing on NBC on May 16, 1983, the 173-minute, Emmy-winning program was a culmination of memorable live performances and video retrospectives that honored the vision of pioneering entrepreneur, Berry Gordy, Jr. The boxer-turned-songwriter created one of the most iconic and recognizable brands in the history of American business.
Under Gordy’s direction, Motown was an undeniable force in music, creating an immeasurable amount of stars out of black entertainers. The label’s musical groups and performers dressed eloquently, danced in unison and sang songs about love and heartbreak in a time when the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, the British Invasion and psychedelic rock each affected a nation constantly going through transition.
Hosted by late comedian Richard Pryor, Motown 25 features medleys of memorable hits performed by The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross, The Temptations and The Four Tops.
There were many unforgettable moments. The program was the first time on network television that megastar Michael Jackson ever performed the Moonwalk, which earned an Emmy nomination. Marvin Gaye performed an emotionally-charged version of “What’s Going On?” The Supremes (minus deceased member Florence Ballard) reunited for a performance of “Someday We’ll Be Together.”
Smokey Robinson performed a duet with pop/rock singer Linda Ronstadt. British new wave artist Adam Ant and Puerto Rican singer/guitarist Jose Feliciano also paid tribute to the label credited for spawning “the Sound of Young America.”
Other distinguished Motown alumni who graced the stage include Mary Wells, Martha Reeves, The Commodores, Lionel Richie and Junior Walker. Another segment of Motown 25 acknowledged songwriters such as the late Norman Whitfield, Harvey Fuqua and Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Motown 25 is an extravaganza that is both historic and entertaining. It’s by far one of the most important music-based programs to ever air on national television. Share your favorite Motown 25 moments on Twitter @TheBurtonWire or @Journalistorian.
Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever airs on PBS beginning Sat., Feb. 28. Check local listings for time.
This post was created by Christopher A. Daniel, pop cultural critic and music editor. He is also contributing writer for Urban Lux Magazine and Blues & Soul Magazine. Follow Christopher @Journalistorian on Twitter.