Motown comes to Pittsburgh…sort of

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Several of Pittsburgh’s Black singers and musicians were on hand, channeling their favorite Motown performers to pay tribute to Motown Records’ 50th anniversary.

Held at the August Wilson Center, the event showcased some of the Steel City’s best talent of all ages performing songs by such Motown greats as Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Marvelettes and The Temptations.

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MOTOWN SONGS—From left: J’Aira Pryor, Gabriel Gray and Sylvia Ellard sing Motown songs.

The event was a lifelong dream of Pittsburgh native Donald Patterson who was able to parlay his love of records and Motown into a wonderful night of soulful song.

“I love music. I’m not a musician and I don’t have any training,” Patterson said. “I chose these people because they have an appreciation for Motown and they have stage presence.”

Co-hosts Johnny Angel, owner of Atria’s Restaurant on the North Side, and the Soul Pitt’s Donna Baxter, started off the evening getting the crowd ready for a night of wonderful singing.

“We got some soul in the house tonight, y’all,” Baxter said before the singers began to strut their stuff.

The evening started off with Sylvia Ellard singing “Every Little Bit Hurts” by Brenda Hollaway. The Spinners hit , “It’s a Shame” was done very well by Bashir Ansari.

Robert Everhart gave the ladies a double dose of his singing talent with Stevie Wonder’s “For Once in My Life” and “Does Your Momma Know About Me?” made famous by Bobby Taylor.

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HOSTS OF THE EVENING—The legend himself, Johnny Angel and the mistress of ceremonies, Soul Pitt’s Donna Baxter, hosted the evening.

Hakeim brought the house down with his beautiful rendition of Smokey Robinson’s “Oooh Baby, Baby.” He has a beautiful voice that should have been showcased more than once.

The next generation of Pittsburgh music legends showcased their talents through the music of a man whose talent crosses generations and racial lines.

A special tribute to the late, great Michael Jackson was performed by the Billy Eckstine Youth Vocal All Star Ensemble, which consists of a group of high school singers. The Billy Strayhorn Youth Jazz All Star Ensemble performed the music during the three-song tribute. Both groups were put together by Patterson.

“We want the kids to learn the business side of the music industry. They need to learn stage presence and proper music ensemble etiquette. These kids may have great voices or musical talent but they need to be taught these things,” Patterson said.

The students performed the Jackson hits “Ben,” “I’ll Be There” and “Got To Be There.”

Other notable performers during the event were Sandy Dowe, J’Aira Pryor who belted out “Please Mr. Postman,” and Gabrielle Grey who sang “The Same Old Song,” backed up by co-host Johnny Angel.

“I didn’t know Johnny had moves like that,” said Baxter, following the performance. “He was kickin’ it.”

Prior to the concert at the August Wilson Center, a reception was held at Atria’s Restaurant on the North Side to honor several Motown musicians some of whom are Pittsburgh natives or have some connection to the Golden Triangle.

Those honorees included Katherine Anderson Schaffner, a former member of the Marvelettes, one of the first super girl groups and Motown promotion man Weldon A. McDougall III, who traveled with the label’s artists and is responsible for the Jackson 5 being on the record label as he introduced them to Motown. McDougall spoke about the history of Motown during the reception.

Former Funk Brothers bassist and Pittsburgh native Bob Babbitt was also one of the honorees. He graced the crowd with his talent during the show.

Proceeds from A Pittsburgh Tribute to Motown Records’ 50th Anniversary went toward helping the two youth ensembles attend the Monterey Jazz Festival High School and College Jazz Battle in California and performing at the House of Blues.

“I realized that arts programs have been gutted and urban youth aren’t in choirs and things like that. It’s a fact that kids enrolled in music programs have higher test scores. These two ensembles and the festival is a chance for kids to see what happens behind the scenes like arranging and composing music. Everyone isn’t going to be a singer, and we need to start early with them,” Patterson said.

(To donate to or sponsor the ensembles, contact Don Patterson at 412-377-4681 or 412-452-6062.)

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