May 29, 2014 at 1:00 am

Detroit's Martha Reeves performs on Capitol Hill to get 'R-E-S-P-E-C-T' for royalties

Detroit's Martha Reeves and Flint's Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad were among the artists gathered on a modest stage in a U.S. House committee for a mini concert, asking Congress to pass legislation to ensure they are paid when their songs are played. (Marisa Schultz / The Detroit News)

Washington — Legendary musicians responsible for some American hit songs brought their instruments and voices to Capitol Hill on Thursday to shine the spotlight on their lack of royalties.

Detroit’s Martha Reeves and Flint’s Mark Farner from Grand Funk Railroad were among the artists gathered on a modest stage in a U.S. House committee for a mini concert, asking Congress to pass legislation to ensure they are paid when their songs are played.

“I’m celebrating 50 years of ‘Dancing in the Street,’ ” said Reeves from Martha and The Vandellas and former Detroit councilwoman, before performing her hit song. “I don’t think there’s been one day since 1962 when I first signed the contract with Motown records that I haven’t thought about show business.”

But now her songs aren’t compensated or just not played on satellite radio in the United States, negating any promotion. To generate income, Reeves said, she tours overseas.

“I need my money,” Reeves told the gathering.

The problem is that digital and satellite radio services have taken advantage of a legal loophole not to pay artists royalties on songs recorded before Feb. 15, 1972. It means Motown musicians, legendary voices like Aretha Franklin as well as rock and roll and jazz greats don’t receive checks when their songs are played, while other artists with hit songs after 1972 receive compensation.

U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, was among seven lawmakers who unveiled legislation Thursday to fix what they consider a glitch in federal copyright laws called the “RESPECT ACT.”

“Unless we change the law, which is what we are going to do, they are going to continue to suffer,” said Conyers, a lover of jazz.

Advocates estimate the digital radio services’ interpretation of the law has cost artists an estimated $60 million in royalties.

“It’s only fair” they be paid, said Sam Moore of Sam & Dave.

Reeves closed out the concert performance with a reprise of Franklin’s “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” the inspiration for the law.

Joining her were Farner, Moore, Richie Furay of Buffalo Springfield and Poco, Roger McGuinn of The Byrds, Gene Chandler (Duke of Earl) and Karla Redding, daughter of Otis Redding.

mschultz@detroitnews.com