DETROIT — For such a little house on West Grand Boulevard, a lot of big things came out of Hitsville, U.S.A.
That’s often a challenge for the Motown Museum, situated in the cozy confines of the label’s original headquarters, as it seeks to convey both the magnitude and the particulars of Motown’s contribution to the world.
One response has been a series of rotating presentations on the museum’s second floor, where the latest themed exhibit focuses on Motown’s lady ensembles: “Girl Groups: The Grit, the Glamour, the Glory,” which opened Jan. 31, assembles memorabilia from the Supremes, the Vandellas, the Marvelettes, the Velvelettes and backing group the Andantes.
With items pulled from the museum’s massive off-site collection, “Girl Groups” features previously unseen photos, concert posters, records and – perhaps most tantalizing to aficionados – stage outfits worn by the groups.
“There are so many stories to tell, we could use a museum 10 times as large,” says Allen Rawls, the museum’s interim CEO. “In the meantime, this is a way to dive into it a little more, put more meat on the bones, in terms of showing how each of these groups is so special.”
“Girl Groups,” which will run through at least mid-May, was preceded by displays spotlighting the Jackson 5 and Marvin Gaye. For patrons already well acquainted with the museum’s offerings – including vintage preservations like Studio A and the Gordy family bedroom – the special exhibits are a way to “keep refreshing the story,” says curator Lina Stephens.
“This gives us a little more opportunity to delve into the groups,” she says. “That’s that beauty of using this space.”
Stephens and Rawls say the exhibit space is also a platform to honor Hitsville figures who haven’t always grabbed the big headlines, including the Andantes, the trio whose backing harmonies are estimated to have appeared on more than 20,000 Motown tracks.
“There’s a big Motown story that runs the whole panorama, from 1959 and even before that, through 1972 and the move to California, and on to today with the Broadway musical,” says Rawls. “So it’s the story within that bigger story. We want to showcase the contributions of our individual artists and the interesting things that went on with different eras.”