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Digital Classroom: Martha & the Vandellas, "Dancing in the Street"

"Dancing in the Street" (1964)

Martha and the Vandellas (inducted 1995) epitomized the Motown look and sound with lush vocal harmonies and impeccable presentation and choreography. "Dancing in the Street" (1964) appeared to be an innocuous song, urging listeners to dance to a brand new beat around the world. Honking saxophones accompany a driving tambourine and clapping while the close harmonies of the Vandellas support Martha Reeves' leading melody. Lyrically, music permeates cities and countries across the nation and around the globe as the infectious rhythms of the recording seem to beckon to dancers to pour out of their homes into the streets. The song, however, was released shortly after the Civil Rights Act was signed into effect, and fans and critics alike immediately projected its performance and recording as political acts. Imbued with multiple meanings, "Dancing in the Street" became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement without that intent from Martha and the Vandellas.

Lesson Plan & PowerPoint

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Classroom Resources

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Video: Martha Reeves on "Dancing in the Street"

Martha Reeves (inducted 1995) tells the story of how "Dancing in the Street" was recorded and talks about its reception.



Video: The Motown Sound

This video demonstrates some of the musical elements that many Motown songs share.



Video: Smokey Robinson on "The Motown Sound"

Hall of Famer and Motown artist Smokey Robinson (inducted 1987) talks about "the Motown Sound" in this oral history clip.



Video: Holland-Dozier-Holland on Songwriting

Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland (inducted 1990)—who wrote and produced dozens of hits for Motown in the 1960s—describe their songwriting process.



Video: Lamont Dozier on Producing

Lamont Dozier (inducted 1990) describes the process of producing a record for Motown. 



Infographic: The Great Migration

Detroit experienced an influx of African Americans from the south during both waves of the Great Migration. Take a look at this infographic that illustrates the dramatic changes in population and employment in and around Detroit during this movement. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Infographic: The Great Migration

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Download the infographic here



Artifact: Martha and the Vandellas Concert Poster (1969)

Describe what you see.
What do you observe?

  • This concert took place in Wolverhampton, England. What does this tell us about the popularity of Martha and the Vandellas? What does this reveal about the international appeal of girl groups—and of Motown acts and American popular music in the 1960s, in general?

  • Consider the collection of artists presented. What do you know about the other musical acts? What can you find out about the other musical acts?

  • Given the information provided on the concert poster, can you envision the concert itself? What would it be like to be in the audience? What would you see? What would you hear?

Martha and the Vandellas Concert Poster

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Use this link to download an image for this activity.