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HOMB 2 : "I DON'T WANT ANY KID ACTS"

Presenting another anecdote from The History of the Music Biz Part Two, our latest batch of profiles of industry trailblazers, curated by Michael Sigman. In this installment, Motown veteran Suzanne DePasse describes her first meeting with the brothers Jackson.

Motown housed many of its artists and executives in a high-rise building 1300 East Lafayette St. in Detroit. Among those living there was Bobby Taylor, who had a hit with “Does Your Mama Know About Me?” 

One day, Taylor invited Suzanne to his apartment. 

“My first reaction was, ‘I am not coming to your apartment, Bobby Taylor.’ He said ‘No, no, it’s not like that. There’s something I want you to see.’ So I went down and he opened the door, and there spread across his living room were these kids.  

“He clapped his hands and said, ‘OK, guys, this is Suzanne de Passe and she works for Berry Gordy and you need to sing for her because she can get you an audition.’ They sang about four songs a cappella—one was ‘Who’s Loving You’—and I must admit that the hair on the back of my neck stood up—I was blown away. I tried to reach Mr. Gordy right away, but I couldn’t get him till the next day.  

“When he called back, the conversation went like this…”  

Gordy: “I hear you’re looking for me.” 

Suzanne: “Yes, sir. I just want to let you know that Bobby Taylor had me down to his apartment and I saw the most incredible act. We have to sign them.” 

Gordy: “Great.” 

Suzanne: “Wait until you see these kids.” 

Gordy: “Kids? I don’t want any kid acts. Do you have any idea how much trouble Stevie Wonder is?”  

Suzanne (mustering all her courage): “Really, I don’t think you can afford not to see these kids." 

Suzanne pauses.  

“Finally, he agreed to see them. Meanwhile, I’m scared to death. Because he was on his home turf in Detroit. and I had never seen a human being treated with so much reverence and total respect…and fear. Bobby was the one who brought the Jacksons to Detroit. So if I have any claim to this whole thing it’s that I overcame my fear of Mr. Gordy telling me no.”  

They sang about four songs a cappella...and I must admit that the hair on the back of my neck stood up—I was blown away.

Once Motown signed The Jackson 5, Suzanne and her cousin Tony Jones were responsible for everything aside from their recordings. “We did the choreography for ‘I Want You Back’ in my living room. We got them in schools, found their doctors, got them their first house. We decided what they would wear, what they would play and what they would say. 

“I will say that they came with a strong sense of wanting to do well and a certain discipline. And we were able to take it from there to the point where I don’t think [Jackson patriarch] Joseph liked it very much.  

Michael and I had a great relationship. On our first tour, we would be at hotels where we could leave our doors unlocked, and he got the biggest kick out of hiding behind the shower curtain or under the bed and popping out like a piece of toast, and saying, ‘I got you! I scared you!’ I came up with a nickname for him: ‘Casper,’ as in the Friendly Ghost. I don’t think I ever called him Michael again.  

“One time, long after he’d left Motown, I saw him backstage at the Shrine [Auditorium in Los Angeles], surrounded by dozens of people. I was standing in the wings and everyone was yelling, ‘Michael.’ I said, ‘Casper’ and he stopped, came over and gave me a big hug.” 

 To order a copy of The History of the Music Biz Two: The Mike Sigman Interviewsgo here.

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