Motown 60: A GRAMMY Celebration comes to CBS this Sunday night at 8:00 PM ET/PT. This musical special was produced by five-time Emmy Award nominee and features performances by several iconic Motown artists and some of today’s biggest contemporary stars.
CBS Local’s Matt Weiss spoke to Ehrlich ahead of the show’s broadcast premiere to discuss his love of Motown music, his relationship with Smokey Robinson and what he hopes viewers take away from this night; 60 years in the making.
MW- Good morning Ken!
KE- Good morning Matt!
MW- Now we’re here today to talk about Motown 60: A GRAMMY Celebration which airs on CBS this Sunday night and you produced the whole show. Now I was able to see the special already and it felt, to me, like you created a love note to Motown music. What’s your earliest memory of Motown and what does this music mean to you?
KE- Well, my earliest memories I was actually in college which gives you an idea as to how old I am [laughs]. I listened to it and it was music we would dance to. It probably goes back before college even though, I remember the first Motown style song I heard, and it wasn’t even from the Motown label it was Tamla, and I fell in love with that song. I had never heard a song like that before in my life. It was so different. I was listening to doo-wop, I was listening to Elvis, I was listening to Jerry Lee Lewis, but that just had a different sound unlike anything else. It was Smokey’s voice, it was different than anything else.
I just think this music is timeless and I think that every subsequent generation to mine has taken some of it. It keeps coming back, it never leaves. The contemporary acts that I work with all the time, when I go see them live they’ll perform a Motown song or sample a Motown song. It continues to be a tremendous influence in music.
MW- You were able to get a lot of those musical influencers for this special like Smokey Robinson, Steve Wonder, Diana Ross, the list goes on and on. What was it like working with these legendary performers?
KE- Stevie is an old friend as is Smokey and we’ve worked together a number of times. It was a dream because opposed to having them on a show where I ask them to do something other than what they normally do this was THE place to their greatest hits.
Diana I’ve worked with a few times, not that often, but she really comes through vividly in her performance that she was there to honor Barry and to show her love for him. I don’t want to neglect Thelma Houston and her part in the show mobilizing this women’s medley that we did; she was amazing. We live in a time now where a lot of those originals are gone but when you’re able to get John Legend to do a Marvin Gaye piece and when Ciara jams on Rick James – I felt really pleased with the way we covered it all.
MW- You had a number of more modern artists including John Legend and Ciara like you mentioned and you also had Jennifer Lopez, Alicia Keys, Ne-yo. What can you say about their efforts to pay tribute to the artists that came before them?
KE- I’m a little biased because I work with all of them and really like working with them. I was particularly taken with what Jennifer did and people will see when they see the show; she poured her heart into this. She took songs that she loved, songs that she had heard growing up and put a frame on them that includes music and dance and spectacle and even wove in a little Smokey and a little Alicia and a little Ne-yo. I was thrilled with what she did.
Ne-yo is also just great, he’s a great performer and he’s an individual. He’s very unique in terms of his style but he can also be a chameleon. I think he’s one of the great interpreters of classic R&B because he feels so close to it.
MW- His voice is so incredible it seems like he would fit in with almost any style of music.
KE- Yea, I agree completely.
MW- Audiences around the country will finally get to see this special Sunday night when it airs on CBS, what do you want viewers to take away from this?
KE- Because Motown has such a special place in music history, I would just hope that viewers reminisce. One of the great things about music, without trying to be too cliche about “the soundtrack of your life,” is that it brings back memories. It reminds you of where you were when you heard a song. These songs have had such an impact on our lives both musically and their general importance that I hope when people watch the show they get a sense of the last 60 years of American pop culture and society.
Obviously there are periods in the Motown catalog that touch on Civil Rights and we touch on that in the show. This music has had an overarching impact on society the last 60 years.
MW- There’s certainly something in this special for everyone between the originals performing their own hits and then for the younger audience there are today’s modern performers doing musical tributes; it really has something for everyone. I think you did a phenomenal job with the special and I’m looking forward to more people getting to watch it Sunday night.
KE- Me too, thank you so much!
Motown 60: A GRAMMY Celebration airs this Sunday night at 8:00 PM ET/PT, only on CBS. Check your local listings for more information.