Case Study: Gamboa Explores What Keeps Motown Hangin’ On

Case Study: Gamboa Explores What Keeps Motown Hangin’ On

Hitsville, U.S.A, now The Motown Museum, located in Detroit, Michigan (Photo Credit: Chris Butcher)

Glenn Gamboa is a professional music writer who wrote for Newsday for more than a decade. While Gamboa writes about all types of music and different kinds of artists, his favorite genres to write about are hip-hop and R&B. In regards to R&B, Gamboa wrote a piece on the 60th anniversary of Motown, a record label that skyrocketed artists such as Smokey Robinson and David Ruffin to fame.

While Motown has garnered international recognition as one of the pioneering forces of music history, Gamboa managed to bring a broad stroke story closer to home for Newsday. Gamboa says of his former employer, “It’s very important to them to find a local angle to a national story. So if I’m doing a national story like the release of this series, they want me to localize it as much as I can. They want me to pull in as many Long Island people as I can.” 

Gamboa was the only music writer during his time at Newsday, so usually, he would automatically be assigned to stories like this. However, because the anniversary coincided with a Showtime special about Motown, the story had the potential to be covered from a television angle. Gamboa knew that he would be the best fit for the story. “My boss would tell me, ‘There’s this Motown [story], do you want to write about it? Or do you want the TV guy to write about it?’ And because I’m attracted to that subject I said, ‘No, I’ll do it. I know you want it to be localized and I know you want Long Island voices in it.” So I was excited about doing it,” Gamboa explained. 

Thus, Gamboa was very specific about the kind of voices he chose, and what kind of interviews he would pull his quotes from to give several Long Islanders – not generally connected with each other – a place in in the story. Of this, Gamboa explained, “That’s where Ken Webb came from, from Sirius. That’s why Chuck D is involved, because they’re from Long Island… I did want to use [Webb’s] voice to bring the national idea of… what Motown was able to accomplish back to Long Island.” Writing this piece for Newsday, according to Gamboa, clearly influenced the style in which this piece was approached.

When asked about why it was written with a Long Island focus, Gamboa explained, “That kind of style is … shaped by the constraints of where you work or what your bosses want you to do.” While he did have the constraints set by his editors, Gamboa still knew how he wanted to write the article. However, there is a wide range of ways the piece could have been delivered, especially in terms of who was quoted. “If I had wrote it for The New York Times, it would have been totally different…If it was for something national, I would have tried to talk to Barry Gordy, or talk to the people doing the documentary…Because none of those people had Long Island angles, I had to find a Long Island angle to put in the story,” Gamboa said.

In addition to gathering quotes, Gamboa received access to the Showtime special before it was released. “They sent me an early stream of it so I could watch it at home. So I’m pausing and rewinding and taking notes and getting quotes,” Gamboa explained. He watched it twice, maintaining the line between professionalism and fandom. Gamboa expressed, “Usually the first time I go through it I’m too distracted by trying to get the quotes out that I really do stop it and rewind to get all the pieces out.” However, to get a deeper feel for the piece, he watched it a second time. Gamboa gave a reason for this, explaining, “I’ll watch it a second time all the way through to relate to it in a way more like a fan, or if I’m trying to piece it all together.”

The piece Gamboa wrote on Motown is professional, and it tells a linear story although not all the individuals quotes were in the same room to tell it. He was able to accomplish an informative piece, yet without compromising his love for the music. What can prove difficult for a music writer, maintaining professionalism in the mind of a fan, was certainly accomplished in his article by Gamboa