Looking for the Temptations on Super Bowl Sunday? They’ll be in Charlottesville, Va.
Smokey Robinson? He’s playing down the block from Ford Field the night before.
Diana Ross? Nothing on her schedule.
America’s biggest sporting event is in Detroit this year, but there won’t be any corresponding celebration of the Motown sound that has long defined the city.
At least not on the NFL’s turf.
“Yeah, it’s a little disappointing,” said Fred Bridges, longtime road manager for the Four Tops. “But it’s their show. You’d love to be in it, but what are you going to do? It’s their party.”
The Tops actually were recently added to the less-watched, less-prestigious pregame show, very little of which will be televised. Stevie Wonder will play and Aretha Franklin will sing the national anthem along with New Orleans native Aaron Neville.
“I was upset initially, and I voiced that,” Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick said Wednesday. “The NFL missed a golden opportunity. I’m glad Stevie Wonder was added — late — and Aretha Franklin was added very late.”
Plenty of complaints for the NFL
All were invited to perform after the NFL heard more than its share of complaints upon announcing that London’s own, the Rolling Stones, would provide the halftime entertainment.
Since the current uproar began, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy has said several times that the league always intended to pay tribute to Motown in the pregame show.
Halftime, though, is a different story.
“The Super Bowl transcends the host city and even the country,” he said.
That became very clear to Brian Pastoria last year when he showed the NFL his proposal for a halftime show that would feature the old and new of Detroit music — Kid Rock, Aretha, Bob Seger and more.
“They were obviously impressed by it,” said Pastoria of Detroit’s Harmonie Park Creative Group. “But they made strong point to say, ‘This is all great, but at the end of the day, we’ve been trying to get the Rolling Stones and Prince to do halftime for many years. If the Rolling Stones want to do it, they’re going to do it.”’
In any other year, in any other city, that would have been great.
But this is DetroitIt’s just that this year, they’re in Detroit.
“Motown started here. That’s about it,” said Seattle running back Shawn Alexander when asked what, exactly, he knows about the Super Bowl host city.
Instead of flaunting that fact, the NFL chose to do very little with it, which didn’t sit well with many folks — from the mayor, to the city council, to many of the musicians who either grew up in Detroit or came here to start their careers with the famed Motown recording label.
Aretha. Smokey. Diana Ross and the Supremes. The Commodores. Martha Reeves. Michael Jackson — OK, so maybe the NFL doesn’t want to go there.
The point is, though, that there were plenty of choices.
“It was my feeling: ‘How dare you come to Detroit, a city of legends — musical legends plural — and not ask one or two of them to participate,”’ said Franklin, who grew up singing in the Detroit church where her father was a reverend. “That’s not the way it should be. Of course, they made that correction with no sweat.”
Still, for a league with such a meticulous eye on planning and details — there will be about 100 people on the field to participate in and document the opening coin toss — this has largely been viewed as another surprising miscalculation.
Two years ago, the infamous Janet Jackson “wardrobe malfunction” at halftime made as much news as the game. Afterward, commissioner Paul Tagliabue conceded he couldn’t stand the show, and thought it was in poor taste. The NFL concluded that if that was what the much-coveted 18-to-45 demographic wanted, then that demographic might have to look elsewhere during halftime.
Last year, 62-year-old Paul McCartney took center stage in Jacksonville, Fla., and everyone seemed happy.
This year, it’s another group of 60-somethings — the Stones — and the league didn’t have to wait for the actual show to raise a tempest.
If anyone knows the need to put the city’s best face forward, it would be Kilpatrick. The mayor’s family has deep roots in Detroit politics and he was first elected mayor in 2001, the latest to try to promote urban renewal in a city where population has shrunk while unemployment has grown.
This week, Detroit is trying to sell its comeback story, a story the Super Bowl has played a central role in. Much of the renovation near the Detroit River downtown can be credited to the NFL’s decision to bring its big game to town.
So, many figured it would be a no-brainer to cap off the celebration with a nod to one of the city’s signatures — the Motown sound.
Motown not Detroit's only sound
Eminem, The White Stripes, Grand Funk Railroad and Madonna are some other music stars with ties to Michigan. Given the Janet Jackson imbroglio (Detroit’s Kid Rock was also part of that show), some of those names might be not be considered tame enough for the NFL.
But there are also Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Contours and the Miracles, who along with the Four Tops are scheduled to perform in what will end up as the week’s biggest celebration of the Motown sound — Saturday night at the Masonic Temple downtown.
Also Saturday, Smokey Robinson will be across the way, singing at the Music Hall Center.
“I wish Anita Baker was there, she’s my favorite,” Steelers linebacker Larry Foote, a Detroit native, said of another Motown product. “I grew up listening to her.”
It’s not as if the NFL is unaware of Detroit’s contribution to modern music.
In 1998, the Super Bowl halftime show was a “Salute to Motown’s 40th Anniversary.” It featured Robinson, Reeves, the Temptations and more. It was, however, held in San Diego, not far from the home of the Beach Boys.
All this hubbub might make the NFL long for the good ol’ days, when late commissioner Pete Rozelle called an “emergency” meeting the day after the Super Bowl and, in discussing the halftime show, said he never again wanted to hear these three words: “Up With People.”
Clearly, though, the ground rules have become more complex as the Super Bowl has morphed into an international event, with a hundred different meanings to a hundred different constituencies.
In this case, Motown got left behind ... in Motown, of all places.
“I was a bit shocked,” said Duke Fakir of the Four Tops. “I know a lot of people in Detroit were very disappointed about that. I think there was a way they could have made this work better. I mean, this is Detroit. A lot of good music has come from here.”