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Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever was a 1983 television special produced by Suzanne de Passe for Motown Records, to commemorate Motown's twenty-fifth year of existence. (Motown was founded in January 1959, meaning that a twenty-fifth anniversary special should have aired in 1984, not 1983. One could argue that Gordy's vision of what would become "Hitsville U.S.A." was conceived in 1958, considering the month of Motown's founding.) The show was also co-written by de Passe along with Ruth Adkins Robinson who would go on to write shows with de Passe for the next 25 years, including the follow up label tributes—through "Motown 40," Buz Kohan was the head writer of the threesome. The program was taped before a live studio audience at the Pasadena Civic Auditoriummarker in Pasadena, Californiamarker on March 25, 1983, and broadcast on NBC on May 16. Among its highlights were Michael Jackson's iconic performance of "Billie Jean", a Temptations/Four Tops "battle of the bands", Marvin Gaye's inspired speech about black music history and his memorable performance of "What's Going On", a Jackson 5 reunion, and an abbreviated reunion of Diana Ross & the Supremes, who performed their final #1 hit, "Someday We'll Be Together" from 1969.


Jr. Walker

Junior Walker performed his signature hit "Shotgun". It was performed as a solo; his long-time group, The All-Stars, did not participate.

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye, who ironically had left the label a year before to sign with Columbia Records and had a current hit with "Sexual Healing," agreed at the last minute to join the roster of other Motown legends to perform. When he came on, he played the piano and gave the audience a narrative of black music history before he stepped off the piano and sung his classic 1971 hit, "What's Going On", to thunderous applause. Marvin's performance on the show, following his appearances in February 1983 on the Grammys and the NBA All-Star Game, was his final national television appearance before his murder a year later in 1984.

Mary Wells and Martha Reeves

The 'first lady of Motown', Mary Wells, and The Vandellas frontwoman Martha Reeves, were each given a 30 second spot during this celebration, each singing one of their biggest hits, in this case: My Guy and Heat Wave, respectively.

Michael Jackson and The Jackson Five

Michael reunited with his brothers Jackie, Marlon, Jermaine, and Tito on stage for the first time in eight years for a medley of their greatest hits, "I Want You Back," "The Love You Save," "Never Can Say Goodbye," and "I'll Be There." Brother Randy, who was not a part of the original Jackson 5, but was a part of the later group The Jacksons (minus Jermaine), also joined the group for the melody.

As the other members of the Jackson 5 left the stage, Michael transitioned dramatically into his own solo spot. Widely hailed as Michael's breakthrough performance as a solo artist, he performed "Billie Jean", which at the time was in the middle of a seven-week run atop the Billboard Hot 100 music charts.

Michael Jackson's concert performances of "Billie Jean" in the years since Motown 25 were always formatted on his performance on this special, from the opening pose with the fedora to the moonwalk routine in the song's bridge.

The Miracles

This special marked the long- awaited reunion of Motown V.P. Smokey Robinson with his original group The Miracles: Bobby Rogers, Pete Moore, Claudette Robinson (then wife of Smokey) and Marv Tarplin, (who was on stage with them, slightly off-camera to the right, but can been seen in certain shots), for the first time since he left the group 11 years before (in 1972.) Original Miracles member Ronnie White did not participate in the reunion for personal reasons (his wife, Earlyn, died that year). As Motown's first group, (also the label's first million-selling act), they were first on the show, singing a medley of four of their greatest hits, "Shop Around", "You've Really Got A Hold On Me", "Tears Of A Clown" and "Going To A Go-Go".

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder, accompanied by his band and his girl group Wonderlove sang several of his greatest hits, including "I Wish", "Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours", "You Are the Sunshine of My Life", "My Cherie Amour", "Sir Duke", and also preceded by a vintage clip of Wonder singing his first hit, "Fingertips" .

The Supremes

Motown 25 was a showcase for the highly anticipated reunion of the Supremes: Diana Ross, Mary Wilson (original member Florence Ballard had died in 1976), and Supremes replacement Cindy Birdsong. Four of their greatest hits were to be sung that night, including Someday We'll Be Together, Baby Love and Stop! In the Name of Love, however this reunion was cut short. Richard Pryor opened the segment with a fairy-tale story of 'three maidens from the Projects of Brewster' which was then followed with a montage of various Supremes' video clips. Diana then started down the center aisle of the auditorium with her hit Ain't No Mountain High Enough.

When Ross finished, she made a brief speech about 'the night that everyone came back' (although, as stated above, some artists were not invited, and some had died). After the beginning chords of "Someday We'll Be Together", Ross became frustrated by the fact that Wilson and Birdsong moved with her, as she walked closer to the edge of the stage, which resulted in Wilson taking over lead vocals of the song. This prompted Ross to push Wilson. A few moments later, Motown labelmates such as Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and others quickly filled the stage for an impromptu finale. Although producer Suzanne de Passe had instructed Diana to introduce Berry Gordy after leading the finale, (a fact unknown to Mary) Wilson decided to do the honors, by calling Berry down herself. This led to Diana yelling at Mary "it's been taken care of". Wilson also made a brief tribute to Ballard, who Gordy had removed from the group years before. By the time the reunion aired on May 16, the Ross altercations had been excised from the special, but they were widely reported (including an article and pictures in US Weekly), and the performance resulted in bad publicity for Ross.

The Temptations/The Four Tops

The Temptations and The Four Tops competed in a "Battle of the Bands" style event. The only original Temptations performing were Melvin Franklin and Otis Williams, as Eddie Kendricks (who quit the group in 1971) and David Ruffin (who quit the group in 1968, and was replaced by Dennis Edwards) had a falling out with the group. Paul Williams had died in 1973, and Al Bryant (who was fired from the group in 1964) had died in 1975.

Joining Williams and Franklin were then-Temptations Dennis Edwards, Richard Street, and Ron Tyson. All of the original members of the Four Tops performed: Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Duke Fakir, and Lawrence Payton, with Levi Stubbs providing the lead vocals. The two groups performed "Reach Out I'll Be There", "Get Ready", "I Can't Help Myself ", "My Girl" "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "I Can't Get Next to You", among other numbers. The joint performance was a success, and the Temptations and Four Tops toured together for two years following the special.

This "battle" later returned in a special at the Apollo theater and created a long running tour for the two groups to compete in.

And others

While Motown 25 was billed as "Yesterday, Today, Forever", artists from the golden era of Motown, such as The Marvelettes, The Vandellas, The Contours, Marv Johnson, Jimmy Ruffin, Edwin Starr, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and The Velvelettes were not included in the special, while newer artists such as Debarge and José Feliciano were. Non-Motown artists, such as Adam Ant (who paid homage to the Supremes singing "Where Did Our Love Go"" with Diana Ross bumping and grinding) and Linda Ronstadt were featured as well. Ronstadt performed "Ooh Baby Baby" and "Tracks of My Tears" with Smokey Robinson. She had hits with both songs and in 1976 her version of "Tracks of My Tears" even went to #12 on the Billboard Country Singles Chart, a first for a Motown song.

According to the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown, James Jamerson, a key component of the Motown sound, and member of The Funk Brothers who recorded many of the backing tracks to the Motown hits, had to buy a Motown 25 ticket from a scalper and sat at the back of the hall with the general public.

Additional appearances were made by Dick Clark, The Commodores, Howard Hesseman and Tim Reid (reprising their WKRP in Cincinnati roles as disc jockeys), High Inergy, John Moschitta, Jr., T.G. Sheppard, Billy Dee Williams, and The Lester Wilson Dancers. Additionally, Rick James was featured in a short video clip.


A VHS recording was released by MGM/UA Home Video on July 1, 1991.



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