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Black Forum Fridays: Honoring Motown’s Hidden Gem

Posted on: 02-29-2016

Imagine yourself listening to the voices of greats like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Langston Hughes in the vibrant Motown Museum gallery. Our Black Forum Fridays event series made that a reality. Every Friday during Black History Month, the Museum paid homage to Motown’s historic Black Forum Label, which was active from 1970 to 1973.

This label, founded by Berry Gordy and the Motown Corporation, recorded some of the most notable orators of that time such as, Imamu Amear Baraka (Amiri Baraka), Stokely Carmichael and Elaine Brown.


Mr. Gordy’s vision for Black Forum was sparked by his work with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who recorded several speeches including the Great March to Freedom on Gordy Records, a Motown subsidiary label. After working with Dr. King, Mr. Gordy knew it was time to give other spoken word artists of that time a platform through the creation of the Black Forum Label.

The 2016 Black Forum Fridays series provided a space for discussion amongst a diverse audience moved by the recordings of some of history’s greatest orators. Every Friday included moderation by local university professors thanks to a partnership with University of Michigan Detroit Center. This last day of Black History Month, we reflect on the key ways the Series honored the legacy of the Black Forum Label.

Authentic Listening Experience
Motown Museum prides itself on authenticity. During Black Forum Fridays, guests heard rare albums on original vinyl. The grit and power of the sound coming from the record player accompanied the historic artifacts that surrounded the audience. Most importantly, with majority of the featured albums being recorded live, our audience felt the energy of the time period firsthand.

Though we preserve the history of Motown, we are also committed to being a platform for artist expression today. Black Forum Fridays included performances by two Motown Mic alumni, Round Robin Finalist Kulture and 2014 Winner, One Single Rose. Their spoken word added a present-day dimension to the event and strengthened the discussion even more.

“People think that their well wishes are enough but…
We been struggling since Rosa was on the bus.”
~Kulture (Motown Mic Round Robin Finalist)

Dialogue with Depth
The intention of the Black Forum Label was to give spoken word artists a platform regardless of the political ideology of Mr. Gordy or the Motown Corporation. Though Mr. Gordy did not want Motown’s involvement with spoken word to outshine the music we all love today, he made it a priority to create this platform.

With that history in mind, the Black Forum Friday series evoked honest discussion with the help of local professors serving as moderators. The events’ intergenerational and racially diverse audiences created a melting pot of ideas and thoughts around a variety of civil rights issues.

“Children don’t learn hate unless you teach it
to them and they really don’t find problems with
other people unless they are exposed to that.”
~Black Forum Friday participant

Exploration of Historic Hitsville U.S.A.
After discussing works by such dynamic orators, guests had the opportunity to explore the historic Hitsville U.S.A. house after the event. The best part about this rare self-guided tour experience was our new Black Forum exhibit that details the label through visual storytelling.

As Black History Month comes to a close, we are proud that our Black Forum Fridays series brought visitors near and far to discuss this historic Motown label. With that, we are excited to announce our 2016 Motown Mic series, a spoken word competition also inspired by the Black Forum Label, beginning April 8, 2016. Stay tuned for more details in the immediate future.