Yesterday and Today, The Beatles Were Not The Only Musical Phenomenon in 1964, According to Motown Historian Tom Ingrassia

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Amid all the focus on 2014 being the 50th anniversary of The Beatles coming to America, it is important to remember the "other" musical phenomenon of 1964--Motown. In their own way, Motown groups like The Supremes were every bit as influential as The Beatles.

Tom Ingrassia

Every decade has its musical phenomenon. In the 1960s, it was The Beatles AND The Supremes.

"Every decade has its musical phenomenon," says Tom Ingrassia. "The 1960s had The Beatles. But it also had Motown... and Motown had The Supremes, who were the top selling American act of the decade."

Ingrassia should know. Not only is he a music historian, but he also once worked for Mary Wilson of The Supremes, and he hosts a 3-hour radio show, "The Motown Jukebox," every Tuesday morning on WCUW 91.3FM.

Ingrassia heads up The MotivAct Group and its subsidiary, Tom Ingrassia Productions, and travels the country with the multimedia lecture programs, "Motown and The Civil Rights Movement," and "Girl Power: The Supremes as Cultural Icons". In the coming weeks, he will share his expertise with the US Army Corp of Engineers, in Concord, MA (for a Black History Month conference), at Thrall Library in Middletown, NY, and at Wachusett Regional High School in Holden, MA. The Worcester (MA) Historical Museum recently presented his program as part of its "Worcester in the 60s" special exhibition. He also has lectured at Berea College in Kentucky, the Valencia Men's Club in Florida, and the State University of New York at Geneseo.

"With all the attention being paid to this being the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' breakthrough success in America, we also need to remember that 1964 also witnessed The Supremes' and Motown's breakthrough success in America--and around the world," Ingrassia said. "The Supremes charted three consecutive Number One singles in 1964--the start of an amazing run of twelve Number One singles the group released between 1964 and 1969. They were the most consistently successful American act of the decade, selling in excess of 50 million records. In fact, only The Beatles and Elvis Presley sold more records than The Supremes in the 1960s."

"The Beatles AND The Supremes owned the 1960s," he concludes.

"Through my work and association with many of the seminal artists of the 1960s, I have had the opportunity to see and hear first-hand the role these young, African American artists played in changing attitudes," said Ingrassia. "In their own way, The Supremes--all of the Motown artists, in fact--were every bit as influential as were The Beatles."

"The Supremes were trendsetters. Their music brought people together--black and white, young and old, rich and poor--more effectively than any other American group. By representing a positive image of successful African Americans in American society, they opened the floodgates for the artists who would follow. President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law in 1964 just two weeks after The Supremes' 'Where Did Our Love Go?' (the first of their twelve Number Ones) entered the Top 40. Their role in helping to change people's attitudes about people of color cannot be denied."

"I grew up with The Supremes and the music of Motown. Motown provided the soundtrack to my life. It inspired me to dream and to achieve. Everything that I do in my life today I trace back to that day in the summer of 1964 when I heard The Supremes on the radio for the first time. Theirs was a new sound that captured my imagination. That Motown made such a defining impression on this little eleven year old white boy, living in upstate New York, is, I think, significant. Motown's music is universal."

Adds Ingrassia, "It is so important that we perpetuate the legacy of The Supremes and Motown, that we share this history with younger generations. These three young women were on top of the world by age twenty, and they DID make history--at a time when it was not easy for African Americans, especially women, to make it. That I am now able to help keep the music alive through my weekly radio show is a dream come true."

"So, while no one can deny the influential role The Beatles played in the changing times of the 1960s, let's not overlook the role The Supremes played during a turbulent time in American history. They were every bit as influential. And it all started in June of 1964," he concluded.

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