cover image One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture

One Nation Under a Groove: Motown and American Culture

Gerald Early. Ecco Press, $17 (135pp) ISBN 978-0-88001-379-6

In this elegant, far-ranging essay, African American studies professor Early (The Culture of Bruising) offers a portrait of the revolutionary as a decidedly bourgeois family man and businessman-Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr., stage manager of ``the most shining moment of the American black in popular culture.'' Borrowing crossover boxing hero Joe Louis's gloves and Booker T. Washington's bootstraps, Gordy combined black and American identities in a music ``that neither bleached nor blackened,'' even if it was created, produced and-most significantly-popularized entirely by blacks. Readers hoping for a complete history or a critical equivalent of The Big Chill soundtrack will be disappointed; Early is less interested in particular songs or artists than in the overarching, if never fully described, ``Motown sound'' authored by Gordy himself with the help of in-house songwriters and producers. (Artists were never permitted to write songs or produce, and even diva Diana Ross was never allowed to become more than just the most exalted member of the Motown ``family.'') This is a heady mix of cultural studies and nostalgia, only occasionally bogged down in a slight mist of academicism. (June)