A night filled with Motown

It was an evening of "Dreamgirls," Motown, nostalgia and a lot of energy Sunday as Mary Wilson and the Funk Brothers entertained on the Britt stage in Jacksonville.

"This is just great, ain't nothing but a party," said Wilson at one point. And a party it was, with Motown as the theme.

Wilson is appropriately billed as "the original Dreamgirl." She co-founded the Supremes, stayed with the group longer than Diana Ross and entitled her autobiography "Dreamgirl"¦My Life as a Supreme." The Funk Brothers launched the Motown sound in the 1960s. And concert opener Mel Brown got his start as a Motown drummer.

Wilson sang many of the familiar early hits of the Supremes: numbers like "Love Child," "Reflections" and "Come See About Me." At one point she invited female audience members to join her on stage. More than 30 took her up on it, singing and dancing to "Baby Love" and "Stop in the Name of Love" among others.

Three of the Funk Brothers who performed in Jacksonville are original members of the band: Bob Babbitt on bass, Uriel Jones on drums and Eddie Willis on guitar. Joined by six newer members, they opened the main part of the show with several numbers of their own, including "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" and "Neither One of Us."

They played more after Wilson left the stage. Especially outstanding was their female vocalist, Marcia Ware. At its height, the performance featured 11 musicians and three vocalists. Overall, it was a show that had its moments, and was light and fun. Too bad it didn't draw a bigger crowd. Not even the reserved section sold out.

Opening the concert was the Mel Brown B3 Organ Group, based in Portland. Brown, often called the "Gentleman of Jazz" with a career spanning more than 40 years, first made his mark as a Motown staff drummer, working with the likes of the Temptations and Smokey Robinson. He toured with Diana Ross and others for 10 years, before giving up the road in 1991 and returning home to his first love, jazz.

The opening act consisted of what Brown called "comfortable jazz" and "some danceable music."

"Once we start playing we don't stop," Brown announced. He meant it. His quartet played nonstop for 45 minutes.

Cleve Twitchell is a retired Mail Tribune editor.

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