It has only been a couple of weeks since I learned about a documentary entitled “The Unsung Musicians of the Motown Empire.” Many questions came to mind: Who are they? Why are they unsung? What does it mean to be unsung? Who is the person claiming that they are “unsung?”
Hang around, because . . . this article will answer every question and more . . . .
Even though questions one, two and three precede question four, let’s begin with it . . . the face behind the unsung musicians of Motown. Who is this guy? What does he do? What is he about? His name . . . Duane Parham, who is he ? . . . let’s find out together!
Duane was born in Detroit, educated in Detroit’s schools, played in the streets of Detroit and lives the spirit of Detroit. He’s soft-spoken in word, but speaks loudly through the voice of his saxophone. That voice is smooth, energizing and undulating . . . causing the listener to move with the sound, breathe with the rhythm, and whisper with the tones.
As my eyes riveted on the pages in front of me, a picture of this man began to formulate. He is a performer and innovator of smooth jazz and rhythm and blues, a community activist and a contributor to the development of music throughout the world. Take a peek at his official website and see why so many people love and support him.
Even though this entire article could be devoted to listing his accolades, talents and civic contributions, that is not its focus. It seeks to unmask the face behind the unsung musicians of Motown–how he defines them, why he is devoting time, energy and resources in supporting them and his vision for them.
Let’s begin by defining the word unsung. According to Definitions.net, unsung means “unappreciated, unvalued; not famous or acclaimed; not celebrated in song or verse; not praised.” Using these meanings, Parham seems to be saying that there are many musicians of Motown that society has not celebrated, or given value to for the talents and services rendered by them. Is it possible to correct that wrong? If so, how? Whom does he feel these unsung musicians are, and why does he feel that way? These are questions only Parham can answer, and . . . this article will give him the opportunity to do so as I sit down with him in a one-on-one interview.
Sitting Down with Duane Parham
- Mamie: What is your earliest memory of music in general?
- Duane: At the age of—– I wanted to play in a band so that I would be noticed by the girls. I could not play an instrument, so I joined a band as a singer. Little did know that could not sing either . . . I found that out later when I discovered that the reason the band always played loudly, was so my voice could not be heard.
- Mamie: How did you choose the saxophone as your instrument?
- Mamie: Did you play in any school bands?
- Mamie: What high school did you attend?
- Duane: Cooley High School of Detroit. I graduated in 1969.
- Mamie: When did you realize you were a professional musician?
- Mamie: If you had to do it all over again, would you choose another professional?
- Duane: No!
- Motown horn players, as well as percussionist, string artists and bass players, had a recognizable blues influenced sound with arrangements and limited instrumentation. The style has been characterized by some as soulful with a distinct melody and chord structure and a call and response singing style that originated in gospel, but was influenced by pop music.
- The term