Sir Paul McCartney and chief curator Linda Stephens during the former's visit. Photo: Motown Museums
By Sheryl Davis
The original studio piano of Hitsville USA will soon return home to Detroit following its restoration at Steinway & Sons in New York. A visit to the Motown Historical Museum prompted Paul McCartney to commission the effort.
Before his concert at Comercia Park last July, McCartney paid a visit to Motown, or “the holy grail” as he referred to it later when reflecting on the experience.
While in Studio A, he requested to play the 1877 Steinway grand piano he recalled on many of the records he listened to as a kid in Liverpool, England. “He was disappointed when we told him it didn’t play,” remarked Motown Historical Museum CEO Audley Smith, Jr.
When McCartney learned of the instrument’s fragile condition, he immediately offered his assistance, calling the museum a day after his concert. In October 2011, the museum officially announced McCartney’s support and the Victorian rosewood piano was carefully transported by train to Queens, New York.
The Motown Historical Museum’s chief curator Lina Stephens accompanied McCartney on his tour and received the call from him later about his excitement and confidence in the project following a conversation with Steinway & Sons.
Myriad recently connected with Ms. Stephens to ask her about the forthcoming special occasion.
Myriad: What are your thoughts as curator on the piano’s restoration and anticipated return? Will there be any special events for its homecoming or have there been any changes at the museum to prepare for its arrival?
Stephens: I am very excited about the return of the piano. The restoration is only a plus as the piano will be playable with the sound quality a Steinway piano should have. As far as a special event to mark the homecoming of the piano, there have been many things talked about, but nothing concrete.
Myriad: Will the piano now take a more active role in the museum’s tour experience?
Stephens: I don’t think the general tour will change with the return of the piano.
Myriad: Is there any chance that Sir Paul will return to Motown to inspect the restoration work for himself?
Stephens: We would love for Sir Paul McCartney to come back and see the piano, but there are no plans for that to happen.
The piano contributed to the “Motown Sound” on recordings from 1960 to 1972, including tunes such as “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “What’s Going On” and “Tracks of My Tears.” It was last featured on The Commodores’ “Machine Gun” album in 1972.
“Steinway & Sons is honored to restore the historic Steinway piano that was used by such legends as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder – and to do so in the very same New York factory where it was originally built in 1877, “ said Ron Losby, President of Americas, Steinway & Sons. “We’re especially proud, as an American company, to help the Motown Museum in preserving the legacy of the Motown Record Company, whose artists and albums played such a vital role in one of the great eras of American music.”