Motown‘s legendary 25th anniversary special was taped today (March 25, 1983) at the Pasadena Civic Center in Los Angeles California.
Subtitled “Yesterday, Today and Forever” the show was eventually broadcast on NBC in May of the same year.
Although some of the artists were no longer on Motown, Berry Gordy and company and producer Susan to pass managed to gather artists like Stevie wonder, Diana Ross, the dictations, the Ford Top’s, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Jackson’s and many other Motown acts.
During the special, Michael Jackson unveiled his “Moonwalk” dance move during a now-famous rendition of”Billie Jean.”
Pulling the special together was a labor of love for the company’s producer, Suzanne de Passe, who was hired by Berry Gordy in 1968 as an assistant, before rising to the position of President of Motown Productions, where she oversaw Motown’s foray into television and movies.
Check out 10 facts about the Motown 25 “Yesterday, Today Forever” television special.
1. Richard Pryor was the first artist to commit to the show. Pryor was not signed to Motown, but Berry Gordy briefly managed the famous comedian, after seeing him at an “Amateur Night at The Apollo” sbowcase in 1965.
2. Diana Ross had not spoken to Berry Gordy in two years, when the Motown 25 special was taped on March 25. She intitally refused to attend, but Motown reps leaked a press release claiming she would be attending. Ross decided to show up at the taping, because she did not want to let down her fans.
3. After The Four Tops and The Temptations’ famous “battle” during the show, Temptation’s group member Otis Williams jokingly told The Four Tops’ Duke Fakir that they should take the show on the road. Managers became involved and the idea spawned the successful “T-N-T Tour,” which ran for three years, all over the world.
4. The taping was the first time Smokey Robinson had performed with The Miracles in 11 years.
5. Michael Jackson refused to take part in the taping, unless Motown agreed to let him perform “Billie Jean,” a new track from his album Thriller, which was released on CBS, not Motown.
6. Temptation’s original members David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks weren’t even invited to the Motown 25 taping. David Ruffin had a multi-million dollar royalty lawsuit against Berry Gordy and the label, and Eddie Kendricks was also in a dispute with the label over money.
7. The special was the first time The Jackson 5 had performed together since they left Motown in 1975.
8. Audience members paid $25-$500 a ticket. One of those who wasn’t invited was Motown’s legendary bass player, James Jamerson. The musician had fallen on hard times and out with Motown. In a sad twist of fate, Jamerson watched the artists perform songs he helped make famous, from the balcony.
9. Over 47 million viewers watched Michael Jackson debut The Moonwalk, which was taught to him by legendary street dancer Adolfo “Boogaloo Shrimp” Quinones, aka Ozone of the movie “Breakin’.” Michael studied with Boogaloo from 1983-1991.
10. The Motown 25 special was nominated for nine Emmy’s and took home one, for “Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program.”