The group formerly known as Motown recently decided to change its name, after reflecting on the African-American roots of the band’s namesake. Its leaders no longer feel it is right to identify as a “Motown” group, considering the band is comprised of 10 white students.
They hardly ever play songs from Motown Records, bassist and vocalist Harry Justus ’18 said. Motown Records is an African-American-owned company based in Detroit, founded in 1959. While some of the country’s most iconic black musicians produced and performed the “Motown sound” — Smokey Robinson, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder are among the most prominent figures associated with Motown Records — the Kenyon band Motown plays songs that are better described as more general “crowd-pleasers, songs everybody loves, oldies,” vocalist Annie Bonello ’18 said.
“The reason we decided not to just dive deeper into Motown is because we felt like, as the group we are right now, we couldn’t represent the Motown genre as it should be, as all-white students and with little knowledge about deep-rooted Motown music,” Bonello said.
They had two options: They could choose to double down on their “Motown” identity, or they could rebrand as a group that “plays songs that get people hype” from all genres, according to Justus. They chose the latter.
Bonello and Justus are working through the difference between “appropriation” and “appreciation.” While they feel that an all-white band calling itself Motown is appropriative, they look forward to entering an era of appreciating music by artists with a variety of backgrounds.
“We still want to honor that music, potentially play some of it,” Justus said. “We still want to be able to share that joy with people but we want to be able to do it in such a way where it doesn’t feel like we’re taking something away from it.”
Motown was formed 12 years ago, so Justus and Bonello are unsure what the group’s mission was when it was founded. Even in 2010, however, it seems the group was not entirely focused on playing songs originally recorded by Motown Records: It played “at many all-campus parties” and strove “to provide the campus with upbeat and danceable live music,” according to a Nov. 13, 2010 article in the Collegian. There have been members of color in the past, but it seems the band’s name has typically been misleading.
Bonello hopes the name change will open up a space on campus for an actual Motown group to form. “Hopefully, people will see that there’s a void of this representation of music, join together and want to play real Motown music and represent some of that music history,” Bonello said.
The group’s new name will likely allude to the fact that they often play at Kenyon parties. A few names that the group members have nixed include “The VI” (pronounced “the six”) and “The Cove.”
The group is planning to have a show and announce their new name later this semester.