DETROIT — In town for a concert last summer, Paul McCartney made his first-ever visit to Detroit’s Motown Museum, the legendary two-story “Hitsville USA” building where a generation’s worth of musical gems were created.
McCartney, a contemporary of Motown stars such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, “was just thrilled to be in the space,” said Lina Stephens, the museum’s curator, who gave McCartney and his bandmates a guided tour that day.
McCartney was also excited to come across a pair of pianos.
“He came to the first piano — even though there’s a sign on it that says, ‘Please do not touch’ — he went up and played the piano,” Stephens said. “He said, ‘I’m sorry I have to,’ and he played.”
When the group arrived at Studio A — the famed Motown recording studio — McCartney found piano No. 3. This one, though, had a cover over the keys.
He was told it couldn’t be played due to deterioration, and McCartney moved on.
The next day, he called with an offer to have the damaged 1877 Steinway grand fully restored.
More than a year later, that process has been completed.
The restored 9-foot Victorian rosewood will have its coming-out party at a Sept. 18 charity event in New York City before returning to its home on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.
McCartney and Motown founder Berry Gordy will play the piano at the New York event, dubbed “Project: Harmony,” said Motown Museum Board of Trustees Chairwoman Robin Terry, Gordy’s grandniece. The event will benefit the Motown Museum.
“We’ll unveil the piano and then the two of them will play the piano, and we’ll have some fun and leave it to them to make of that what they will,” Terry said in an interview with the Associated Press on Thursday.
The piano will eventually go back on display at Studio A, where it has been housed since the museum’s opening in 1985.
Terry said the piano made its way to Motown when the studio acquired Golden World Records in 1967, a facility that was redubbed Motown Studio B and used by musicians and songwriters to create music by Wonder, Gaye and other Motown greats.
The piano was restored by Steinway & Sons to professional recording quality, Terry said, with all of its internal components — soundboard, keys, hammers, pins and strings — restored. The piano’s case was left as is to preserve its authenticity, while the legs, which were not original, were replaced.
While the original strings and hammers were worn beyond repair, they were retained and will be returned to the museum for exhibit.
McCartney’s publicist didn’t return a message from the AP seeking comment, but Terry said: “Paul McCartney, he orchestrated the process, moving the piano, getting it to Steinway. … It wasn’t just a monetary thing. His soul was in it. He wanted to make sure that this contribution was made, and he followed it through from beginning to end.”
While they didn’t cross paths all that often during their respective heydays, The Beatles and Motown artists were members of a mutual admiration society.
Beatles manager Brian Epstein did promote Motown revues in the United Kingdom, which were popular with fans and stars alike. And Four Tops singer Abdul “Duke” Fakir recalls being at a party with The Beatles, where the Fab Four peppered his group with questions about how they sang their harmonies and achieved other elements of their sound.
According to Stephens, McCartney “was pretty tickled” during his tour to find a photo of himself and Beatles bandmates Ringo Starr, George Harrison and John Lennon alongside Gordy’s father and Gordy’s three children.
McCartney “talked about the fact that he had always heard about and been conscious of Motown and getting his hands on those first Motown recordings and things,” Stephens said. “It was kind of completing a circle for him in a lot of respects.”
— Associated Press