January 13, 2009 at 1:00 am

It's official: Ceremony at Hitsville kicks off Motown 50

Duke Fakir of the Four Tops talks to visitors in Studio A at the Motown Museum. (Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)

On Monday, Motown stars and politicos including Detroit Mayor Ken Cockrel, U.S. Rep. Carolyn Cheeks-Kilpatrick (D-Detroit) and Wayne County executive Robert Ficano gathered at the Motown Historical Museum to launch Motown's 50th anniversary with a press conference in the historic Studio A recording studio.

"Motown Day" was proclaimed in the city, county and state, and museum CEO Audley Smith introduced members of the Motown family, including the Four Tops' Abdul "Duke" Fakir, Rosalind Holmes of the Vandellas, Bobby Rogers of the Miracles, Gil Bridges of Rare Earth and studio musicians Uriel Jones and Dennis Coffey.

The alumni all stuck around for an afternoon of special "In Their Own Words" tours, telling visitors stories about their experiences. Martha Reeves of the Vandellas (a member of Detroit's City Council) was in Germany, but will take part in the tours this week as soon as she gets back in town.

The celebrity tours will run from noon-4 p.m. all week, with a special half-off ticket price.

The 10 a.m. press conference was held on the 50th anniversary, to the day, that Berry Gordy received the $800 loan with which he launched his record company, and served to kick off a year (at least) of activities commemorating Motown 50 all around the world.

But with all the songwriters and producers standing on a podium set up in Studio A, it fell to Mayor Cockrel to declaim some Motown lyrics while introducing his proclamation.

"It is truly a pleasure today to be the mayor not of Hockeytown, not of the automotive capital of the world, but of Motown, am I right?" the mayor said. "People all around the world know 'what's going on,' " Cockrel added. "This morning I 'can't help myself' in declaring this day, in the city of Detroit, Monday Jan. 12, as 'Motown Day.' "

Although he was born in 1965 and was but a wee tot during Motown's heyday, Cockrel grew up hearing Motown music at home. "You were a crib baby, you had no choice," quipped Fakir of the Tops. Cockrel said he now plays it -- on a turntable -- for his five children.

Motown Historical Museum chairman Robin Terry, the granddaughter of museum founder Esther Gordy Edwards, read a statement from Berry Gordy, who couldn't be there.

"He put a song in here," Terry said of her songwriter great-uncle, "but I'm not going to sing it."

Gordy's statement: "I am honored that you are celebrating the Motown legacy ... by declaring today Motown Day in Detroit. Motown music was for everybody, and it grew out of love. It has spread out all around the world and become part of the culture and consciousness on all seven continents ... I always thought of Detroit not as a big, cold city but as a warm, friendly place because of all the people I grew up with here. I named my company 'Motown' to reflect my feelings about that. Wherever I go, I carry Detroit in my heart. I even wrote a song about that with a young writer, Willie Hutch, for Sammy Davis Jr. 'You're a fighter, you're a lover, you're strong, and you recover from whatever gets you down, and I will always be there for you, I will say a little prayer for you, and I will always care for you. Hello, Detroit, you've touched my soul, thanks for the memories I cherish so.' "

Motown songwriter/producer Ivy Jo Hunter, who co-wrote "Ask the Lonely" for the Four Tops and "Dancing in the Street" for Martha and the Vandellas, summed it all up with a touch of poetry.

"This place was going 24/7, it was the assembly line for the Motown Sound," Hunter said. "We all worked together, we all loved each other, we competed against each other with a ferocity that you can't even imagine. But that's what kept the level of quality high.

"God bless the dreamer. God bless the dream. And God bless the results."

You can reach Susan Whitall at (313) 222-2156 or swhitall@detnews.com.