Motown sound to come from 1877 Steinway again

McCartney pays to restore it; to play duet with Gordy

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DETROIT — In town for a concert last summer, Paul McCartney made his first-ever visit to Detroit’s Motown Museum, the legendary two-story “Hitsville USA” building where a generation’s worth of musical gems were created.

Mr. McCartney, a contemporary of Motown stars such as Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, “was just thrilled to be in the space,” said Lina Stephens, the museum’s curator, who gave Mr. McCartney and his band mates a guided tour that day.

Mr. McCartney was also excited to come across a pair of pianos.

“He came to the first piano — even though there’s a sign on it that says, ‘Please do not touch’ — he went up and played the piano,” Ms. Stephens said. “He said, ‘I’m sorry I have to,’ and he played.”

When the group arrived at Studio A — the famed Motown recording studio — Mr. McCartney found piano No. 3. This one, though, had a cover over the keys.

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Paul McCartney will play the 1877 Steinway grand piano he paid to ... more >

He was told it couldn’t be played due to deterioration, and Mr. McCartney moved on.

The next day, he called with an offer to have the damaged 1877 Steinway grand fully restored.

More than a year later, that process has been completed.

The restored 9-foot Victorian rosewood will have its coming-out party at a Sept. 18 charity event in New York City before returning to its home on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit.

Mr. McCartney and Motown founder Berry Gordy will play the piano at the New York event, dubbed “Project: Harmony,” said Motown Museum Board of Trustees Chairwoman Robin Terry, Mr. Gordy’s grandniece. The event will benefit the Motown Museum.

“We’ll unveil the piano, and then the two of them will play the piano, and we’ll have some fun and leave it to them to make of that what they will,” Ms. Terry said Thursday.

The piano will eventually go back on display at Studio A, where it has been housed since the museum’s opening in 1985.

Ms. Terry said the piano made its way to Motown when in 1967 the studio acquired Golden World Records, a facility that was redubbed Motown Studio B and used by musicians and songwriters to create music by Mr. Wonder, Gaye and other Motown greats.

The piano was restored by Steinway & Sons to professional recording quality, Ms. Terry said, with all of its internal components — soundboard, keys, hammers, pins and strings — restored. The piano’s case was left as is to preserve its authenticity, while the legs, which were not original, were replaced.

While the original strings and hammers were worn beyond repair, they were retained and will be returned to the museum for exhibit.

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