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Reinventing Motown

Martha Camarillo Councilwoman Reeves

Photo: Martha Camarillo

Reeves isn’t into clubs ("I don’t go to them, I play them"), so I was left on my own to explore the Bleu Room Experience, which has a barking velvet-rope policy and female bartenders in T-shirts and bikini bottoms. At Envy, hot shots en route to the VIP sanctuary cool off before a 20-foot waterfall. Elysium Lounge numbers four bars spread over 12,000 square feet of plushness.

The next night Reeves invited me for dinner at what she called "the best place I know." Seldom Blues has 350 seats, live jazz, and big views of the Detroit River. Maybe I should have had the Blue-B-Que bass with blueberry glaze, because the pasta was gluey. Also with us was the 91-year-old creator of Motown’s legendary "charm school," Maxine ("You Don’t Protrude the Buttocks") Powell, whom I had always longed to meet. Professor Powell now works in Reeves’s office, and I guess I got carried away, because the council member scolded me for huddling with her former teacher and not paying attention to the food. The things a reporter can get in trouble for!

Reeves looked her diva best in a long hooded mink coat for our visit to the Motown museum. Inside she stood in the exact spot where, inches behind Marvin Gaye, she famously sang backup on "Stubborn Kinda Fella" ("do-do-do-whaa!"). "The first time I recorded ’Dancing in the Street,’ " Reeves remembered, "they forgot to turn the tape on. The fire you hear in my voice is the anger at being asked to do it again." Upstairs, she recalled stuffing 45’s into sleeves at Gordy’s dining table between sessions.

Reeves lit up when I produced my old snapshot of her, and we connected when I told her how bogus I thought the albums of Motown songs by Michael McDonald were. Still, despite my obvious credentials, I never felt she took me seriously as a fan or connoisseur. At lunchtime on my last day, pizza was ordered in for everyone in Reeves’s office, including Ms. Powell, but nobody offered me any. So much for charm school. In the future, I think it would be better if I did not try to meet the musical idols of my adolescence, even second-tier ones (they weren’t called the Supremes for nothing). Reeves’s first hit was "Come and Get These Memories." Now I understand.

Christopher Petkanas is a T+L special correspondent.

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