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McCartney at the keys of Motown piano

By Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press –

DETROIT — After nearly a year of meticulous restoration, one of Motown’s historic pianos will soon make its way back to Detroit — but not before spending some time with two musical giants.

Paul McCartney, who funded the repair work, will join Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. for a performance on the 135-year-old Steinway during a Sept. 18 benefit show in New York.

The $10,000-ticket event at Steinway Hall could raise more than $1 million for the nonprofit museum, where the grand piano will be reintroduced for display in November.

McCartney became enamored of the dilapidated piano during a tour of the museum’s Studio A in July 2011, offering to fund restoration for an undisclosed amount. The piano was shipped by train in October to New York, where specialists with Steinway & Sons carefully replaced keys, strings and other internal parts.

The piano’s original nine-foot body was left intact.

“This piano has had new life breathed into it,” said Robin Terry, chairman of the museum’s board of trustees. She said the piano will be used for performances and education programs at the museum.

Terry also clarified the history of the piano, which was described in a news release last fall as the instrument used on recordings by acts such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

That account was disputed by Detroit music historian Leo Early.

Terry said Thursday the museum has since learned that, in fact, the piano was used for songwriting and rehearsals at Detroit’s Golden World studio, which Motown purchased in 1967, and was not used on recording sessions.

Publicity about the restoration “brought forth a lot of great stories from our alumni and others — piano technicians, people who had worked on that piano — and that helped us weave the story together,” Terry said. “Our interest is having accurate, factual historical information, and this really caused that to happen.”

The New York benefit show — dubbed Project: Harmony — will be the Motown Museum’s main fund-raising event this year, Terry said. The museum’s regular Detroit gala is not scheduled for 2012.

The piano news comes during a time of transition at the 27-year-old museum, site of Motown’s original office and studio. Allen Rawls, a longtime member of the museum’s board, was named interim CEO in February, replacing Audley Smith.

There is no timeline for naming a permanent CEO, said Terry, grand-niece of Gordy and granddaughter of museum founder Esther Gordy Edwards.

Rawls “will continue to do that for as long as we need him to, getting through this exciting time for the museum,” Terry said. “From our board’s perspective, we want to make sure things are solid and being handled well. Allen is certainly filling that gap for us.”

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