Last month (May), we spoke about Martha Reeves’ financial dilemma in raising funds for her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.  Well, it seems the fundraising campaign launched during March was successful as it hit its $50,000 goal in late May.  Credit must surely be given to her global fan base, who rose to the challenge, and for this I thank you so much.  I’d like to think we did our bit through this blog, and subsequent word-of-mouth.  However – and isn’t there always a ‘but’? –  I contacted Martha’s recently hired manager Chris Roe twice via his website to ask for a few comments which I could pass on.  Zilch has been received. It’s so annoying. Thankfully, Brian McCollum, reporter for the Detroit Free Press was more fortunate and I hope he doesn’t object to my liberating these quotes for you.  From Chris Roe:  “I am overwhelmed by the response we received. This was a grassroots campaign that ended up succeeding with contributions between $25 and $100 from most donors.  At the end of the day, this star was delivered to Martha by her fans and admirers.”  And from Martha herself,  “One of my favourite parables from the Bible is ‘We can do all things through Christ who strengthens.’  Chris Roe Management and hundreds of supporters have proved that when we believe, it is possible to unite in faith, trust and persevere.  We’ve got the date, March 28, 2024.  Hallelujah. As you know, Martha’s star will join others from Motown, including those for Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations and, of course, Berry Gordy.  Hallelujah indeed!

For years I thought I celebrated my birthday on the same date as Brenda Holloway.  But no, she’s a 26 June baby. She said she had no idea how this date became public knowledge but decided not to correct it.  I’m thinking that perhaps the date was included in a press release back in the day and has never been corrected. Brenda doesn’t often read her own press so wouldn’t have been aware.  However, I do share 21st with Dave Godin, a very dear, treasured friend and mentor, who died on 15 October 2004. Our joint birthday – joined in soul – was a date we never forgot, in much the same way as I’ll never forget him.

A Temptations’ musical jukebox that opened in London’s West End in March seems the best way for me to start this short review. Ain’t Too Proud promised much and to some extent, delivered.  The narrative from Otis Williams’ perspective is almost a text book reflection of the group’s climb from the Detroit ghettos into international stardom, with its setbacks that included the downfall of Paul Williams, David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks. On the other hand, the introduction of Diana Ross and the Supremes that resulted in the joining of the two groups to sing “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me” was a glaring inaccuracy.

Sifiso Mazibuko, who played Otis, spoke in clichéd terms, without too much emphasis on highlighting interesting aspects of the group’s career.  The inclusion of Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes’ “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” and The Isley Brothers’ “Shout” seemed ridiculous, bearing in mind the huge wealth of catalogue that carries The Temptations’ name.  Obviously if there was a reason, it whooshed over my head!  Women are downplayed throughout.  Even Tammi Terrell’s volatile relationship with David Ruffin was mentioned then brushed aside, while Otis’ wife came across as the nagging other half, trying to keep her family together – a point the Temptation couldn’t seem to grasp.  Racial tensions were added to the melting pot of growing up in Detroit, like the city’s riots, and tragedy of Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination, in much the same way as portrayed in Motown: The Musical.

The performers at the Prince Edward Theatre are all seasoned names treading the boards, some having starred in Dreamgirls, Thriller, The Drifters Girl and Motown: The Musical.  As you would expect the music was faultless with hit upon hit providing a relentless reminder of just how magnificent The Temptations were – “The Way You Do The Things You Do”, “My Girl”, “Get Ready”, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”, “I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You)” through to “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” and “I Can’t Get Next To You”.  All musical diamonds.

On reflection, I think what threw me, as a Motown fan, was that the actors looking nothing like the people they were trying to represent, and the dance routines were exaggerated Hollywood style.  Granted, The Temptations were top of their game when it came to exciting choreography, but, hey, even they didn’t dance like things possessed in treble-time.  The music wasn’t in chronological order (as far as I can recall) and the lowly record label that was to become the major Motown Corporation, was a watered down version of important milestones. However, for what it was, Ain’t Too Proud was great entertainment on a Thursday afternoon in London town. Certainly the audience loved every note sung, hip thrust and high kick.  So who am I to pass judgment here?    What did bring a lump to my throat was something rather silly in the grand scheme of things: the big blue Motown “M” standing proudly at the back of the stage.  That such a symbol should say so much proves the power of Motown is everlasting, so it wasn’t all bad.  The musical’s run has been extended until January 2024 when MJ:The Musical will kick off a month later, with the opening night on 27th March.  Of the information available just now, this musical centres around Michael’s rehearsals for his 1992 Dangerous World Tour.  A camera crew is invited to interview him for a documentary which opens up the backstory to his career.  Those memories are then highlighted in music.

At eighty-five-years-old, Duke Fakir is the only surviving member of the Four Tops.  He said the success of Ain’t Too Proud had inspired him to start working on his own project, and it was two years ago when news began to filter through into the media that he was working with Broadway producer Paul Lambert on a musical about the Four Tops, titled I’ll Be There.  Once again, I’m grateful to Brian McCollum who printed that Duke had acknowledged his advancing years, so believed it was time to tell the story: “Pretty soon, you’re going to start forgetting stuff you should remember.  So I didn’t want to wait any more.  Original Four Tops’ fans won’t be around if I wait much longer.”

To this end, he authored his autobiography “I’ll Be There: My Life with the Four Tops” with Kathleen McGhee-Anderson, published last year by Omnibus Press.  It was a rather unassuming insight into my favourite group; perhaps more of a disappointment, if I’m honest.  Anyway, I digress, because it is this book that forms the basis for the musical, with the script being written by said Kathleen.  Said Duke, “It’s how and why the four young gentlemen that came together out of the clear blue sky, who could harmonize from the very first moment, became magic.  And why we stayed together for forty-four years.”

Eddie Holland is said to have read the script, claiming it to be ‘exciting’, and (I hope) rightly so, because the musical backdrop to the group’s rise to fame came from the writing/producing skills of Holland-Dozier-Holland. A conveyer belt of vintage Four Tops’ music is bound to set the pulses throbbing, once the most challenging of jobs to find an actor/singer who can sound like the irreplaceable Levi Stubbs, is successful. Good luck with that one!  There was a certain friction in the studios between Eddie Holland and Levi because Eddie drove him harder than he had been pushed before. “Levi would complain all the time about us putting these songs in a higher key,” Eddie told Susan Whitall in The Detroit News.  “I was a second tenor and Levi was a baritone with a very good range.  Even a tenor range.  He did it well.  He would give me these little looks in the studio, but I would ignore it.”

The plan was to premiere I’ll Be There in Detroit last autumn, before moving to Broadway, then London, which was imperative Duke insisted because the Four Tops have always had a huge, loyal UK fan base.  Detroit was the obvious choice for its launching pad, as Duke told Brian McCollum: “…This is my city.  Detroit is my New York.  It’s my Hollywood and that’s where it should be.  They deserve it and I want them to love it.”  You’ll remember that when Motown moved to Los Angeles, the Tops remained in Detroit:  “This was our home.  We got everything we know right here.” According to latest reports, the show’s casting is complete and rehearsals have begun, yet I can’t find anything more to back that up. And not having a hot line to Duke, all I can say is – watch this space.

As a footnote, with these musicals proving popular with audiences on both sides of the Atlantic, perhaps an enterprising promoter would consider one on the life of Marvin Gaye.  I know, in my dreams!  Let me explain.  Years ago – more years than I care to remember – I was approached by a ‘British someone’ who had penned a marvellous script on the life of Marvin, based on my book “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”. Then, out of the blue, I received a request from a Los Angeles-based film company to use same book as the basis for a movie.   Both projects failed to pass square one because Motown – I’m assuming Berry Gordy or Marvin’s family – refused to give permission for his music to be used. And that was the end of that! One day perhaps…

Sharon Davis

(Photos – Martha Reeves, 1979;  Brenda Holloway, 2009;  Duke Fakir, 1984,  copyright Sharon Davis)