November 19, 2017

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“Rhythm” Fans Find the Groove at Greenlight

RhythmRideThe October 2 launch party for Rhythm Ride: A Road Trip Through the Motown Sound, Andrea Davis Pinkney’s newest middle grade nonfiction title (Roaring Brook, Sept. 2015), transformed a rainy Friday night into a Motown musical extravaganza. Greenlight Bookstore, an independent book shop in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, was packed despite the abysmal weather, and the animated energy of Pinkney and the smooth melodies of The TeeTones warmed the audience from within. The night began with Pinkney and the band making a surprise entrance from the back of Greenlight with a rendition of “Do You Love Me?” by The Contours, winding their way through the delighted crowd. When she reached the podium, Pinkney, donning era-authentic round sunglasses and a dress invoking the iconic style of The Supremes, opened as the voice of the Groove: “You ready, child? Let’s go.” The Groove, the funky narrative guide of Rhythm Ride, has roots in someone very close to the author: “The Groove is based on the vernacular of my cousin, who was a teen DJ during Motown’s heyday.”

Andrea Davis Pinkney signs copies of her book for eager attendees while the storm rages outside.

Andrea Davis Pinkney signs copies of her book for eager attendees while the storm rages outside.

 

The presentation continued on a more serious note when the author, also an editor at Scholastic, began sharing never-before-seen images from the book, including photos of Motown artists, and of the turbulent period in which Motown emerged. As the author of over 30 books celebrating black culture and social justice, Pinkney was keen to remind all that part of Berry Gordy’s intention for the Motown record company was to remove the label of “race music” often attached to black musicians. Referencing the diverse crowd, she prompted, “Look around you, the answer is in this room…we are all feeling the same joy, the same tenderness. Motown celebrates that common thread in all of us.” This common thread proceeded to follow the historic high and low points of the civil rights movement, and Motown was the soundtrack to it all: “[It] was the light that got us through those dark times.” To demonstrate, Pinkney spoke on the aptly named chapter “Ugly Sightseeing,” which broaches the difficult path and painful casualties of oppression during the civil rights movement, including four young black girls who perished when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, and the murder of teenager Emmett Till. The TeeTones (some of whom were on Berry Gordy’s original Motown label) then elevated the emotional moment with The Temptations’ “My Girl.” Says Pinkney: “The audience erupted.”

The TeeTops kept the crowd movin' and groovin' at the book launch for Rhythm Ride.

The TeeTones kept the crowd movin’ and groovin’ at the book launch for Rhythm Ride.

It’s a testament to the powerful nature of the event that attendees stayed long after the presentation, swaying to the live music and expressing their gratitude. “I think that’s a tribute to the music, and to the far-reaching impact of Motown,” Pinkney mused later, stating a common response of “This is my music!” from excited fans of all different identities and backgrounds, while thanking her for the book.

Pinkney shared with School Library Journal a glimpse into her vision for the event: “My plan was to ‘shake up’ the definition of what a book launch is. My goal was to have a night of theater in a bookstore.” Judging from the abundant praise, collective energy, and smiling faces, it’s safe to say that goal was achieved and then some. “A bookstore can pack a lot of magic on a Friday night in a hurricane,” Pinkney added.

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