Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Roaring Brook Press, 2015
Rhythm Ride, Andrea Davis Pinkney's latest nonfiction work, is a dynamic look at the life of Berry Gordy, the rise of Motown Records and the success of dozens of African American singers and songwriters from the 1960s to the 1990s. The first chapter,"Greeting from the Groove," introduces the narrator of the story: the Groove. The Groove takes readers on a road trip through the history of Motown and speaks directly to readers along the way.
Full-page and half-page black and white photographs accompany the story of how Gordy established Motown Records in a home in a Detroit neighborhood. Gordy wanted to offer African American artists better recording contracts and larger distribution than other record companies that often took advantage of talented artists.
Each chapter introduces readers to a new artist or group and describes the tight-knit Motown family including Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Martha Reeves, The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Jackson 5. Pinkney's lyrical writing captures the feeling of R&B music. As I was reading, I felt like I was in the Hitsville, USA house in Detroit watching history unfold. Pinkney's thorough research is evident in the details she includes in the story. Readers get a true behind-the-scenes look into Motown Records as Berry Gordy hired Maxine Powell to provide etiquette and finishing lessons to Motown artists. Cholly Atkins was hired to choreograph moves for groups when they performed live. It was Powell who gave The Supremes makeovers and helped them become more polished, and Atkins choreographed the movements to "Stop! In the Name of Love."
The book artfully weaves together music, history, and business. In the chapter titled, "Ugly Sighting" Pinkney reminds readers that even though many Motown artists were successful and famous, there were many terrible events happening to African American children and teenagers in our country including Claudette Colvin and Emmett Till.
The last chapter of the book describes the sale of Motown Records to EMI Music Publishing. Be sure to read the extensive back matter including the author's note, timeline, discography, and source notes. Pinkney explains that the voice of the Groove is modeled after her cousin Scoopy, a radio professional and voiceover actor.
Rhythm Ride is a must-read of 2015, and it's a recommended purchase for school and public libraries. I should warn you that the Groove will get into your system while you're reading, and you'll have the urge to put on some R&B music and dance. Don't resist!
Visit the publisher's site to read an excerpt and see photos from the book.
The reviewer received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher.