April 1, 2013 at 1:00 am

Motown piano Paul McCartney paid to have restored returns to Detroit

Restored piano back at Motown Museum
Restored piano back at Motown Museum: An 1877 Steinway & Sons piano that was played during Motown's heyday was reassembled at Studio A in the Motown Historical Musuem.

A piano with a rich history in Detroit music is finally back home, at the Motown Historical Museum. The nine-foot 1877 Steinway grand piano that sat for years in Motown Studio B on Davison was returned to Hitsville Monday and reassembled in Studio A by Steinway technicians, after a complete restoration at the company's factory in New York.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney helped fund the restoration of the piano after he visited the museum in July 2011, and discovered, to his chagrin, that it didn't play. McCartney and the Beatles were staunch admirers of Motown, recording cover versions of "Money," "You've Really Got a Hold on Me" and other Motown hits.

McCartney has long said that his greatest influence, on bass guitar, was Motown bassist James Jamerson.

"The timing was actually perfect, because we have our annual Esther Gordy Edwards Community Day on April 25," said Robin Terry, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Motown Historical Museum chair, and Edwards' granddaughter. The Steinway will be taken apart, brought into Hitsville's Studio A and reassembled Monday; it needs to sit for two weeks before it can be tuned.

"Steinway will send someone out to tune it, and it will be ready for the public to view on the 25th," Terry said.

April 25, Esther Gordy Edwards Community Day, is now an annual event honoring the founder of the museum on her birthday. No admission fee is required on that day. Edwards, Gordy's sister and a Motown executive, kept Hitsville open after Motown moved to Los Angeles, and founded the museum in the early 1980s.

"I really do encourage Detroiters to come and visit Hitsville again," said Terry. "She built that museum because she wanted people to be forever mindful of what was built here in Detroit. The innovation and ingenuity that went into the sound impacted people all over the world. We are the only city on the planet that can claim ownership of Motown."

With "Motown: The Musical" currently in previews at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre in New York, premiering April 14, this is turning out to be Motown month. Terry agrees.

"With all the excitement around 'Motown: The Musical,' there's a resurgence of interest," she said. "Motown hasn't gone anywhere, but certainly the musical has given rise to this new energy and excitement around the story of Motown."

The Steinway has been on display at Motown's Studio A, the tiny recording studio in the back of the house at 2648 W. Grand Blvd., for some years, but was actually the piano used at Motown Studio B, originally Golden World Records' studio, run by Ed Wingate and Joanne Bratten.

Golden World was nipping at Motown's heels in the 1960s, so it was bought by the entrepreneurial Berry Gordy Jr. Golden World had artists such as Edwin Starr ("War"), Carl Carlton and the Reflections, and Gordy acquired some of the artists and Golden World's real estate in the deal.

Motown artists would use Studio B when they wanted to be away from executives' prying eyes, or if they needed a larger space than Studio A. Marvin Gaye worked on much of "What's Going On" at Studio B.

Last fall, McCartney was the first to play the newly restored piano with Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., at a special event at Steinway Hall in New York City.

“To see Paul McCartney and Berry Gordy in New York together, they were like kindred spirits,” said Terry, who was there at the mini-concert. “They have so much respect and admiration for each other, and the legacies created by the Beatles and by Motown, it’s a mutual admiration society. We feel very fortunate to have a friend in Paul McCartney; it was such a really generous gift.”



Robin R. Terry, left, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Motown Museum, and Interim Motown Museum CEO Allen Rawls with their prized Steinway grand piano. / Max Ortiz/The Detroit News
Billy Brasile, of JP's Piano Movers installs a keyboard cover at ... (Max Ortiz/The Detroit News)
Paul McCartney, left, and Berry Gordy stand in front of a newly restored ... (Shahar Azran/Motown Museum)