Southeastern Michigan Bibliography

A resource guide for students, educators, researchers, Michiganders, and everyone else

Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit

Smith, Suzanne E. 1999. Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Hitsville, U.S.A. and the Motown scene are synonymous for many with the 1960s identity of Detroit. Motown was more than a sound – it was also a push, a catalyst, that encouraged people to take to the streets and herald in social change. Smith does not dismiss popular music and the emergence of Motown as either trivial or accidental. Rather, she centers the Motown music scene as a lens for examining civil rights and racial tensions not only in Detroit but also within the larger Northern African American civil rights movement. Smith suggests that Motown intersected with the activism of the period and thus, must be seen within the context of the period’s political, social, cultural, and economic climate. Some readers might find the lack of industry knowledge frustrating while others might want additional support for the book’s arguments, as many points remain speculative. Still, there are lessons to be gained by considering the cultural within political and social upheaval.

dancing in the street


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Supported by a Carnegie-Whitney Grant from the American Library Association.


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