Holden author spreads the Motown magic
By Bill Thomas
Posted Feb. 12, 2016 at 6:00 AM
Motown historian Tom Ingrassia is making a Supreme sacrifice.
The Holden writer, a radio personality, motivational speaker and award-winning author, is donating 10 percent of sales of "Reflections of a Love Supreme: Motown through the Eyes of Fans" to the Cindy Birdsong Trust. A member of the Supremes from 1967 to 1976, Birdsong, 75, has fallen on hard times due to health issues and is struggling to pay her medical bills. Mr. Ingrassia is also donating 10 percent of his book sales to WCUW 91.3 FM, Worcester's community radio station, where he hosts "The Motown Jukebox."
"I have an obligation to do that," Ingrassia said. "The Supremes are the nucleus of my passion and focus. It's very important for me to give back. Mary Wilson saw things in me that I didn't see in myself."
Ingrassia travels the country with his pop culture lecture programs, "Motown and The Civil Rights Movement," and "Girl Power: The Supremes as Cultural Icons." He served as creative director for Mary Wilson's "Supreme Legacy" merchandising business from 2000 to 2005, and also worked with The Velvelettes, Arlene Smith of The Chantels, Barbara Alston of The Crystals and June Monteiro of the Toys.
Locally, Ingrassia will be appearing from 2 to 4 p.m. Feb. 13 at Booklovers' Gourmet, 55 East Main St. in Webster.
"Reflections of a Love Supreme" tells the story of Motown through the eyes - and camera lenses - of its fans. Many of the book's 140 photos have never been published before: personal, behind-the-scenes glimpses of the people, places and things that made Motown the music that inspired a generation. Ingrassia said he was especially thrilled when Birdsong offered photos from her collection for the book, showing The Supremes on tour in Mexico and Japan.
Despite Ingrassia's reverence for the cultural art form given birth by Motown record label founder Berry Gordy Jr., he has no illusions regarding Gordy' seminal influence.
"All he wanted to do was to make music that would make money for him," said Ingrassia, who was assistant dean of the graduate school of management at Clark University before leaving to pursue his musical dreams in 2001. Notwithstanding that sentiment, he said Gordy's contribution to the American social fabric is far-reaching and enduring.
"He presented it in a way that was not threatening to white people. From 1960 to 1969, everybody was dancing to Motown and listening to Motown."
As the '60s progressed, songs like "Baby Love," "My Guy," "Ball of Confusion" and "Love Child" "eased some of the tensions going through society," Ingrassia said.
The Supremes, for instance, were trail-blazers, he said, as an African-American act that went from playing small lounges to the Lincoln Center in 1965. Yet in the early days of Motown, Gordy tried to downplay the dominance of black artists, to the extent that an Isley Brothers album cover featured a young white couple kissing on a beach.
Yet the Motown sound served to unite people from diverse backgrounds, while Ingrassia is critical of what he believes are divisive aspects of rap music.
"If you listen to Motown, you hear blues; if you listen to rap, you hear Motown." However, "If you turned on any radio station in the '60s, you'd hear Motown. Music today is so segmented. There's not the same kind of crossover there was in the '60s. Music was uniting people in the '60s. Today's music is driving people apart."
Ingrassia fell in love with the Motown sound 51 years ago, when he was 11 and saw the Supremes performing on "The Ed Sullivan Show."
His first book, co-authored with Jared Chrudimsky, is "One Door Closes: Overcoming Adversity by Following Your Dreams." It received a National Indie Excellence Award in 2014, and is being made into a documentary film this year. Ingrassia is at work on a third book, "The Passion of Teaching: How Professors Inspire Their Students," co-authored by Arni Arnthorsson, who teaches marketing at a university in Mexico.
"Reflections of a Love Supreme" is available through Amazon, as well as from www.ingrassiaproductions.com. For more information about Ingrassia's appearance at Booklovers' Gourmet, call (508) 949-6232.
Ingrassia will also appear at local book signings from noon to 1 p.m. Feb. 14 at Wesley United Methodist Church in Worcester, in conjunction with African-American History Month; and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. April 16 at That's Entertainment in Worcester, in conjunction with National Record Store Day.