The legendary record label Motown has long been one of African America’s soundtracks, boasting a list of hits which reflected the changing racial and social climate of the 20th century, all set to the groove and amazing voices like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and the Jackson 5. That legend, born by founder Berry Gordy in late-fifties Detroit, is now being celebrated through a hit Broadway show, “Motown: The Musical.”
With four Tony nominations in tow, director Charles Randolph Wright and two of the musical’s stars—Brandon Victor Dixon and Valisia LeKae—joined host Melissa Harris-Perry for a walk down memory lane and a look at how such an eclectic mix of music and history is brought to the stage.
“It’s outrageous,” said Wright. “Berry Gordy was my idol growing up. I grew up in the South, and we didn’t have a lot of role models, not a lot of heroes of color—and to see a person like him, it gave me permission to dream and walk out the door and be that I wanted to be. So working with him was extraordinary, because I got to see how he did it. He knows more about entertainment than all of us combined.”
LeKae was nominated for a Tony Award for her portrayal of Supremes frontwoman Diana Ross. Harris-Perry, who attended a performance on Saturday night, noted that Ross sat directly in front of her.
LeKae said having the hall of fame singer in the audience was “comforting,” knowing that she was there to support Gordy and the show.
“You also get to see this beautiful love story between Mr. Gordy and Ms. Ross, and we don’t get to see that a lot with African-Americans,” LeKae said on the panel. “Here we are, promoting such a wonderful thing—not just love, but friendship and forgiveness.”
After the conversation, LeKae and Dixon—as Ross and Gordy—performed “You’re All I Need To Get By,” later made famous by Gaye and Tammi Terrell. See the video below.