Posted by Rebecca G. Aguilar, M.Ed. on August 31, 2015
Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
By Andrea Davis Pinkney
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication date: 9/29/2015
Authors of nonfiction books for middle grade readers work tirelessly to meet criteria for accuracy, focus and interest. With topics from diverse experiences, an additional requisite might be that real stories be written through a genuine lens.
A brilliant example of all four criteria done well is Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound from Roaring Brook Press. In this upcoming book, award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney chronicles the legendary music label that produced R&B stars Smokey Robinson, Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and the Supremes.
Davis Pinkney frames the story of Motown for readers with the Groove. Her narrative strategy conveys commentary, fun and humor at just the right turns. And because the story of Motown cannot move through racial, cultural and historical contexts without it, the Groove’s point of view also imparts an abundance of truth-telling.
The Groove starts the journey by introducing Berry Gordy and the music company he founded in 1959 to develop young, black talent from Detroit.
“When people passed 2648 West Grand Boulevard, it was like taking a stroll past a factory. Outside, the place looked like other houses on the block, but behind Hitsville’s sign, Motown’s assembly line began turning out hits in quick succession. And the company was geared up for a whole bunch of hit-cranking. It was as if Berry’s neighbors could hear engines humming, pistons hissing and a chassis waxer putting polish on a gleaming machine. But that factory rhythm wasn’t about making cars—it was about making stars.” (p. 39)
The Ford Motor Company employed many in Detroit’s African-American community, including Gordy, who worked at the Lincoln-Mercury plant as he was starting a new family. The determined entrepreneur valued the idea of the assembly line and wondered if songs could be built like cars. Gordy would by design manage Motown like a car factory.
Gordy introduced Motown songs in quality control meetings before releasing to a nationwide audience. Anyone from sales to the cleaning crew could offer critiques, but before things became too contentious, Gordy put songs to a vote:
“If you only had a dollar in your pocket, and you were hungry, would you buy a hot dog or this record?” (p. 34)
In the discography of top singles and bestselling albums by year and performer, the Groove encourages a YouTube search of Motown hits for a glimpse of musical styles that influenced listeners in the middle of the last century (not too long ago). Examples from the discography include the crossover classic “Nowhere to Run” by Martha and the Vandellas (1965); the uptempo hit “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” by Stevie Wonder (1966); the golden oldie “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles (1967); the danceable groove “The Love You Save” by The Jackson 5 (1970); the protest song “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye (1971).
The Groove’s point of view drives the story all the way to the back matter, where a very readable author’s note rides along a sound bibliography, index and chapter source notes. Iconic photos throughout Rhythm Ride (with the Groove’s voice in catchy cutlines) share definitive moments in the history of Motown and the artists that made music for an entire generation.
A highly worthwhile read, Rhythm Ride will be for middle grade music history buffs an exceptional guide to the legendary music label of Motown, its innovative founder and the celebrated achievements of its artists.
Andrea Davis Pinkney is the author of many bestselling books for children and young adults, including the Coretta Scott King Award winner The Red Pencil.
Roaring Brook Press is a publisher of high-quality literature for young readers of all ages, from toddler to teen, and in all categories: picture books, fiction and nonfiction.
Category: Music History