meli and I did not spend much time in the Presidential Library exhibits and only looked around on the first floor (she has been before). It is only the second Presidential Library that I have been to but we were there to see Motown: The Sound of Young America. It was a small exhibit but had everything you would hope for including a jukebox playing only Motown songs. All the videos were short with various of the Motown artists talking about their time there.
You could see Ray Parker Jr.’s Gretsch from when he was a studio musician at Motown. A piece about the Funk Brothers and Holland-Dozier-Holland. The beautiful dresses and tuxedos worn by the artists. A video by Otis Williams taught The Temptations steps. At one point, meli and I glanced over and there was a guy – very unselfconsciously – learning the steps. We stood at the microphones and sang The Supremes’ “Stop In the Name of Love.” There was also a drum kit to play along with one song. And I heard Smokey Robinson tell the story of how he wrote “Tracks of My Tears.”
At the end of the exhibit is Barack Obama introducing “In Performance at The White House: The Motown Sound” when they celebrated Motown in the East Room of the White House.
From the Library, we walked across the plaza to the Briscoe Center for American History to see their current exhibit Greatest Hits: The Briscoe Center’s Music Collections.
Here there were lots of short videos of either songs or people talking about the making of those songs. Texas artists were featured like Willie Nelson and Janis Joplin. Lots of blues artists and Mexican corridos (some about JFK). Some of my favorite moments was listening to Janis Joplin and folksy “Silver Threads and Golden Needles,” Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan jamming, and Leonard Cohen singing “Bird on a Wire” with his producer, the legendary Alan Johnston. There is a video of Townes Van Zandt playing “If I Needed You” for the first time. There are field notes from John Lomax and different recordings done by him and his family including Alan. I learned how Archie Bell came up with “Tighten Up.” And there is a case devoted to Barbara Smith, an opera singer I was unfamiliar with.
It was so much fun to see two exhibits devoted to wonderful music.
By Carene Lydia Lopez