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Professor's interest makes Motown a must


By Seth Holt



Smokey Robinson, the Tempations and Marvin Gaye boomed from the speakers as the students listened to the base line of each artist. All three artists are a part of the Motown era, which originated in Detroit. \nCharles Sykes, the director of the African American Art Institute, is in his tenth year of bringing Motown from those roots to the campus of IU. With it, he brings a unique way of studying the period of artistic, cultural, and historic change of the 1960s. "It's so important to the history of this country to understand that period," Sykes said. "And you cannot understand that period without understanding the music, because the music is an expression of the period." \nMotown, the influential record company started by Berry Gordy in 1959 and still in existence today, nurtured the rise of such artists as Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Sam and Dave and The Jackson 5. \nIt perfected an assembly-line-like approach to producing and selling music. The name comes from it's home city Detroit and its' nickname the Motor City. Motown successfully integrated aspects of the automobile assembly line into its process.\n"The idea of moving a product from point zero to a finished product was built into the operation and even had a quality control department just like the final steps in an automobile plant," Sykes said. \nOnly instead of kicking the tires, Motown's quality control department would vote on whether a song was good enough to be released.\nSykes, who views himself more as a tour guide for his students than an expert, doesn't view Motown as a music genre, but instead as a variation of urban-black popular music that rose from rhythm and blues into soul music and was shaped by the people of Detroit. \n"It wouldn't be like jazz, blues or Motown," Sykes said. "Motown was much more of a local concept, so you can think of it as a music genre, but I don't."\nAlso an adjunct professor of folklore and ethnomusicology, Sykes was introduced to classical and spiritual music at an early age. Before he finished high school, he was able to recognize all nine Beethoven symphonies. While the classical and gospel influence came from home, Sykes tuned to his radio to hear the melodies of R&B and jazz, instantly being inundated with the music. \n"I grew up listening to all of these kinds of music and each of it served a particular role and function in my life," Sykes said. "Motown was just a part of that."\nIt is a part that he argues is vital to understanding the political events of the era -- the civil rights movement particularly as it affected African Americans. \n"I think Motown is a must, not the only must, but one must understand Motown if you are to understand that period of time," Sykes said.\nHis love and passion for music is not lost on his students. Jeremy Allen, a doctoral student in musicology who is enrolled in the Motown course this summer, said that the best part of the class is learning a subject from a teacher who is passionate about the material. \n"Dr. Sykes loves this music," Allen said. "It comes through whenever he is illustrating a point -- snapping his finger, tapping his feet, and doing his little dances."\nAnother current student, junior Kiwan Lawson, said that while the course is intense, Dr. Sykes' class brings together a network of people who share the same interests, making the class worth the effort. \n"Campus can be very big trying to find four or five people who have the same interests," Lawson said. "I've already met five (in this class)." \nSykes says this can be attributed to the transcending ability of Motown's music, which he has witnessed first hand while at a concert of the Legends of Motown. There, Sykes was enjoying the Temptations when he began to browse the faces of the crowd.\n"I'm looking around the audience and you have people of all shades of complexion and all ages -- young kids and older people -- and you're watching them singing the words to the song. That says something that this music has certainly stood the test of time and I dare say, that it's going to continue"

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