NewsBlack History Month

First Lady of Motown Claudette Robinson shares her memories as museum reopens

Posted at 11:41 PM, Feb 22, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-22 23:41:56-05

DETROIT, Mich. (WXYZ) — On Wednesday, 7 Action News gave you a tour of the brand-new Motown Museum as part of our Black History Month series of stories we've been doing all during February.

We also got a chance to chat with the "First Lady of Motown," Claudette Robinson of The Miracles.

She was part of the very first group managed by the founder of Motown, Berry Gordy, and she's excited about the reopening.

With two renovations complete, the Motown Museum, known the world over as Hitsville U.S.A., reopened its doors Wednesday, and this history is rich.

In the late 50s, the first group to catch Gordy's eye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, had only one girl in the group, Claudette Robinson.

“Mr. Gordy happened to be at the audition and he was like, 'I like that group. If they don't like it, I like it. I like the girl in the group,'” Claudette Robinson said.

That was in 1957, two years before the official launch of Motown Records, which was founded in 1959.

“Mr. Gordy became our manager. At that time, there were no other artists,” Claudette Robinson said.

Gordy gave Claudette Robinson a special title.

“He initially gave me the First Lady of Motown title because of the fact that I was the first female,” Claudette Robinson said.

Claudette Robinson saw some amazing talent at Motown.

Diana Ross and her crew came to audition with her before they did with Gordy.

"Yes, they did. They actually came to my house and auditioned,” Claudette Robinson said.

Early on, they had to create their own costumes, makeup and money for fame.

“Our great big royalty check was $3.19. And that was for all of us to share,” Claudette Robinson said.

“Who were your favorites?” 7 Action News anchor Carolyn Clifford asked the First Lady of Motown.

“Well, of course it's going to be too many," Claudette Robinson responded. "Let's just say Marvin Gaye. Marvin Gaye actually played drums on our song 'Shop Around.' And when The Jackson Five came, Michael and his brothers and all, which was a little later.”

Claudette Robinson planned to be a teacher when record companies began popping up all over Detroit.

“Hundreds of groups all over the city," she said.

She believes the history of Motown is important to share with the new generation.

“(It's an) Opportunity to know that you can start from nowhere and get to somewhere with dedication and hard work because I will tell you, it was a lot of hard work,” Claudette Robinson said.

“What do you think people are going to say when they walk through the Motown Museum?” Clifford asked.

“I think that they're going to feel that this is an awesome experience," Claudette Robinson said. "An experience that happened long before many of them were born."

Claudette says she is working on a documentary about her life as the First Lady of Motown and she's written a children's book. More importantly, she is so proud of the legacy of Motown and what it will mean for this new generation.

Related: Celebrating the grand reopening of Detroit's renovated and expanded Motown Museum