Motown and how it’s ‘shaped me as an artist.

Denver Gay Men's Chorus

At the age of 2 years old, my grandmother noticed that I was able to sing and was instrumental in introducing music into my life at a very young age.  She did it with all of us grandchildren as well as her own children such as my father, and uncles, in addition to a host of cousins, nieces and nephews. We were all influenced by my grandmother and her passion for music.  She was also a pre-school music teacher.  She taught little children nursery rhymes and piano. 

A singer herself she spent most of her life singing more gospel music, and not much else.  That said, she really enjoyed listening to the sounds of Motown music.  She loved Motown. The only music that was allowed on the radio was either gospel or Motown.  Her love of Motown was passed on to my father, which offered great musical mentors in his life as to where he himself became a musician in his local high school Jazz band with neighborhood friends he grew up with.  They would play local gigs though out the city of Chicago jamming out hits from Motown as well as Jazz tunes.

My mom and grandmother heard about a play based off of the Wizard of Oz that was preformed by an all African American Cast. It would also feature a young talented lady by the name of Stephanie Mills who played the lead role of Dorothy.  The Wiz was a new musical like no other. It had elaborate costumes, great music and a lot of good singing black people in it and would change my life. The Wiz won many fans over in addition to a Tony Award for best Musical from Broadway.

After Broadway release of the hit musical the Wiz (A soulful Musical), Barry Gordy and Motown Records produced the stage production as a live feature film with Universal Studios. The movie would include famous celebrities such as Diana Ross (Dorothy), Michael Jackson (Scarecrow) , Luther Vandross  (Music and Lyrics  Everybody Rejoice), Lena Horne, (Glinda the good witch of the south)  Richard Pryor (The Wizard of Oz), Mable King (Evileen the Wicked Witch of the West, Nipsy Russel (The Tinman), Ted Ross (The Cowardly Lion), Theresa Merritt (Auntie Em), Sidney Lumet (Director) Charlie Smalls (Music and Lyrics), and legendary music mogul Quincey Jones (Music Score)

My first connection with Motown was due to the movie “The Wiz” believe it or not.  The first Time I’d even seen, heard or even noticed Diana Ross and Michael Jackson was from the movie the Wiz.

 I saw the movie on the big screen with black people, dancing and singing to good music and telling the classic story of the wizard of oz.  That struck a chord with me.   When I learned it was Diana Ross and Michael Jackson easin on down the road my life would change from that point on. I was obsessed with them both.  I wanted to be just like them. Inspired by the Wiz and having been taught how to sing by my grandmother, I along with my brother and cousins would spend countless hours dancing and singing. We’d come up with dance routines and choreography and preform in front of our family and friends at gathering and reunions.  Eventually we’d perform in local talent shows, school assemblies, and performance venues.

After time I’d join high school show choirs and vocal jazz ensemble in college.  I went on to study music and became a professional musician in the Chicago Land area.

And now I am a proud member of the Denver Gay Men’s Chorus.  All thanks to Motown and my Grandmother. 

Perry Simmons

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