Motown artists go back to where it all began: ‘it didn’t fully affect me until I got here’

There’s a long-standing guideline for visitors at the Motown Museum: Please don’t touch the Steinway piano in Studio A.

That rule was happily thrown to the wayside Monday afternoon, as the West Grand Boulevard institution hosted a contingent of young Motown Records artists in town to connect with their label’s roots.

“We’ve always wanted to take them on a field trip to where it all began,” said Ethiopia Habtemariam, president of the Detroit-born, Los Angeles-based record company, which is now operated under Capitol Music Group. She hopes to make the Hitsville, U.S.A., trip a “fundamental initiation” for new Motown signees.

Detroit R&B singer Kem — part of the Motown roster since 2001 — was among those on hand to welcome the West Coast arm of the family. Even as Motown Records rides the waves of ever-morphing music culture, increasingly venturing into hip-hop, the trip was a chance to be reminded of the creative and entrepreneurial DNA embedded in it all.

On a shuttle bus from the group’s hotel, there was a glimpse of the camaraderie and good humor that reportedly characterized Motown’s artist caravans back in the ’60s — even if the acts back then weren’t scrambling for phone charger outlets and documenting the ride on their mobile devices.

“So Motown started in this little house?” rapper Ljay Currie asked aloud as the shuttle arrived at the museum with its iconic blue Hitsville, U.S.A., sign.

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