Motown: Speaking in the Streets

Motown: Speaking in the Streets


Berry Gordy’s Motown Records produced the soundtrack to the economic confidence and social optimism of young America in the 1960s with euphoric pop that crossed all racial boundaries.

By the end of the decade more strident voices were expressing the African-American experience in increasingly turbulent times. Gordy responded in 1970 with Motown’s spoken-word label, Black Forum. Alvin Hall became an avid collector of its radical output and explores here its fascinating, all but forgotten history.

Only eight albums were released but they include a 1963 speech by Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, and songs by Black Panther leader Elaine Brown. Hall talks to Black Forum alumni Suzanne de Passe and poet Amiri Baraka whose wit, eloquence and commitment still sparkle.


Financial adviser Alvin Hall listens to the work of Black Forum, a spoken-word record label created in 1970 by Motown founder Berry Gordy. Its releases included poetry, civil rights speeches and black soldiers recounting their experiences in Vietnam, but closed in 1973 following eight releases. Recently, these have begun to attract attention and have revealed a powerful testament to the African-American experience during a turbulent time in American history. Alvin speaks to those who were involved in their making including Elaine Brown.