Paul Helps Restore Historic Motown Piano

19 September 2012

One of Motown’s prized musical instruments, a nine-foot 1877 Steinway grand piano, made its debut at a charitable event to benefit Motown Museum at Steinway Hall in New York City on Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012, where Motown founder Berry Gordy and Paul McCartney played it for the first time following its extensive restoration.

With 100 patrons of Motown Museum in attendance, guests had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to hear Paul McCartney share with the audience why he was moved to support the restoration of this piano — one of the many instruments that helped create the legendary Motown Sound — following a visit to Motown Museum in July 2011, saying, “We were wandering around Studio A inside Motown Museum, when I saw this piano I thought, 'I can’t come to Motown and not tinker on it'. Once I realised it was unplayable, I called Steinway & Sons and they also realised… this piano was part of a major moment in history. And, now people in the future will record on it and keep the legacy of Motown alive.”

He also shared his personal appreciation for Motown and its musical influence.

“Growing up in Liverpool as little kids we started to get a feel for American music,” said McCartney. “And, suddenly it all changed — there was this sound we never heard before. So we bought the records like everyone else, we learned them.” McCartney said jokingly.

He continued, “When I went to Detroit last year, for me the Museum was such a special place where this music was made. If you are in Detroit you must go and see it — its history — that’s what it is.”

Motown founder Berry Gordy spoke about the lasting cultural influence and social impact of Motown, the upcoming, highly anticipated opening of Motown: The Musical on Broadway in spring 2013 and the vital role and bright future of Motown Museum — as the physical space where the celebrated Motown legacy and its artefacts are protected and preserved to inspire future generations. He also told a story about the day he heard The Beatles wanted to use three Motown songs on one of their albums.

“That was the day Motown truly went international thanks to The Beatles,” said Gordy. “It is amazing to me how music continues to bring people together. Paul and I grew up thousands of miles apart and here we are united in music.”

Gordy continued, “I am so proud to stand next to you tonight,” he said to McCartney. “You are a dear friend who was the catalyst for this evening because of your love and appreciation of Motown.”

Paul McCartney and Berry Gordy unveiled the piano together by removing a covering with the Steinway & Sons emblem, with Paul McCartney saying to Berry Gordy, “I think you should kick it off, it’s your piano.”

Following the unveiling, the two musical icons together played an electrifying rendition of Motown’s 1959 first hit record 'Money (That’s What I Want)' written by Berry Gordy that was subsequently covered by The Beatles. Berry Gordy started the song and then graciously asked Paul McCartney to take over. Paul McCartney then continued his performance by playing 'My Valentine' followed by 'Lady Madonna' and 'Hey Jude.'

The meaning behind Project: Harmony —to celebrate Motown’s lasting legacy following this piano’s restoration — inspired other artists to perform and show their support as part of this special evening. Following McCartney and Gordy’s performance, the energy of the evening continued with singer/songwriter Michael Bolton and Motown star Valerie Simpson performing a powerful rendition of 'Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.' Avid Detroit supporter Kid Rock was also in attendance.

“My childhood was greatly influenced by Motown,” said Michael Bolton. “Listening to Paul McCartney talk about the influence of Motown tonight speaks to its magnificence and impact.”

The evening concluded with a live auction, with bidding led by Leila Dunbar — a recognised auctioneer and featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow on PBS. The auction featured collectible music items to benefit Motown Museum, including a one-of-a-kind, metallic white 2000 Gibson Les Paul Standard Guitar signed by Paul McCartney and Berry Gordy, Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson autographed 'Shop Around' sheet music, two tickets to the opening night of Motown: The Musical, including access to a private post-reception following the event, two tickets to Paul McCartney’s 'On The Run' North American VIP tour and a private party at Motown Museum for up to 200 people.

“This event served as another example of the continued worldwide appreciation of Motown, the depth of its enduring legacy and the powerful ability of this timeless music to transcend generations and move audiences today,” said Robin R. Terry, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Motown Museum. “We won’t soon forget the excitement and energy present this evening surrounding this piano and its place in music history thanks to Paul McCartney and Steinway & Sons. Their generosity has inspired others, including our patrons and the other artists who joined us for this special evening. Project: Harmony was a fitting celebratory send off for this piano as it makes its way home to Detroit following this restoration, where inside Motown Museum it will continue to be treasured, preserved and protected as an enduring part of Detroit and Motown’s lasting legacy.”

Ron Losby, President, Steinway & Sons—Americas said, “Steinway & Sons was honoured to play our part in the restoration of this historic Steinway piano in the same New York factory where it was originally built in 1877. We are equally honoured that the Motown Museum allowed us to host the public unveiling of this piano, Project: Harmony, at Steinway Hall. Motown and Steinway & Sons are inextricably linked in the annals of American music through the great Motown music that was performed and recorded on Steinway pianos. We feel that this piano is the embodiment of this partnership for the ages.”

Now that the event is complete, the piano will make its final journey home to Detroit where it will be put back on exhibit in Studio A inside Motown Museum. Plans are still being finalised for the arrival of the instrument in Detroit in late fall, where the Museum plans to utilise the newly restored piano in future performance and educational events.

The story of Project: Harmony began when Paul McCartney visited the Motown Museum in July of 2011, when he was so moved by its musical aura that he later declared it to be the “Holy Grail.” The next day after his concert in Detroit, he called the Museum to offer his support restoring this historic piano. Now its restoration is complete and all of its internal components are restored to professional recording quality. While the original strings, hammers and “action” were worn beyond repair, they were retained and will be returned to the Museum for exhibit. The piano’s case was left as is to preserve its authenticity and DNA, while the legs — which were not original — were replaced.

Built in 1877, the Victorian rosewood piano first made its way to Motown when the studio acquired Golden World Records in 1967. This facility was re-dubbed Motown Studio B and was used by the stable of Motown artists, musicians and songwriters to create more music by the likes of Marvin Gaye, Earl Van Dyke of the original Funk Brothers, Stevie Wonder and Edwin Starr, to name a few.

Patrons of this exclusive event showed their support for Motown Museum and the importance of this cultural gem with their own individual contributions of $10,000 following the lead of Paul McCartney and Steinway & Sons’ generosity.

Photo courtesy of Shahar Azran.