The drums kick us off.
Enter the piano, along with a funky bass line.
Bringing in the guitar lick, the soulful vocals uplift the song to where it needed to go.
Welcome to Hitsville, USA.
UC Santa Cruz’s Mainstage Theater will transform into a time machine, returning to the 1960s. Engineered by National Black Theater Festival (NBTF) Theater Legend Award winner, Audience Development Committee Inc. “VIV” Award Winner, and Broadway Actor Chester Gregory, audience members will see the evolution of Motown.
On Oct. 15 at 7 p.m., the Cultural Arts and Diversity Resource Center (CADrc) is presenting Dancing in the Street: Music of Motown to celebrate the music of 1960s Detroit. Gregory will be performing a Motown review with a four-piece band, walking the audience through a history of musical legends such as Marvin Gaye, Sam Cooke, and the Temptations.
The show will also highlight the feats of Motown founder Berry Gordy and the longevity of the music produced under the Motown record label. Berry Gordy started producing for a variety of R&B legends, such as the Supremes and Stevie Wonder, in his home studio.
“[Gordy] was extraordinary at attracting talent from across the Midwest to the East Coast. If you could get his eye, you’re no longer on the back shelf, you’re being produced,” said CADrc Director Don Williams.
Williams, accompanied by four other UCSC students, first attended a performance by Chester Gregory at NBTF in North Carolina, where he portrayed singer Jackie Wilson in “The Eve of Jack (The Last Time)”.
While organizing the event, John Bennett, Outreach Coordinator at CADrc, was able to meet with Gregory.
“We were super blessed to run into [Gregory], and say ‘Hey, we want you to come to Santa Cruz, do you think that would be viable?’” said Bennett. “Had we not had that experience, I think that it wouldn’t have been as attainable.”
Music of Motown’s soundtrack may be from the ’60s, but CADrc students are certain that the music will resonate with people today.
“I think that Motown grew out of such a definitive part of history. There was so much going on, [not only] for Black people in history, but everyone in this country,” said second-year Nazeerah Rashad, CADrc’s office manager. “And just like every other genre of music, Motown serves as a form of […] emotional expression and creativity.”
CADrc’s performances aim to transform traditional forms and perceptions of theater and invite a wider audience to participate. Bennett came into Santa Cruz thinking that theater wasn’t his forte, but being part of CADrc changed his opinion on it. Now he wants people to see that theater is more than just sitting down and listening to Shakespeare for two hours and that shows can be absolutely invigorating.
With anticipation that Saturday’s show will start the quarter off with a bang, Bennett hopes the show will promote CADrc’s mission to encourage BIPOC students to tell their own stories through theater.
“This performance will definitely be electric,” said Bennett. “If you wanna really experience that primo old-school Motown, you gotta come here. This is a strong part of Black identity, and you wouldn’t wanna miss it.”
This weekend’s performance is intended to connect people of all backgrounds and musical preference, and to celebrate pivotal artists in music history.
“It’s a get up and move kind of show,” said Williams. “We all love music. Music sees our soul, no matter how old, how young, or what color you are — we all recognize music.”
Dancing in the Street: Music of Motown is free admission for all and will be the first of many performances to come from CADrc, along with the African American Theater Arts Troupe and Rainbow Theater. RSVP to Saturday’s show here.