"Motown 30: What's Going On" is much, much more than a celebration of the three-plus decades of this record label -- it is at once a variety show as old-fashioned as Ed Sullivan, and on the cutting edge as much as Keenan Ivory Wayans.
But more importantly, producers Suzanne DePasse and Don Mischer have built this show around a theme -- the demonstration of how, during the last four decades, African-American contributions to the arts moved from the marginal to the mainstream, from the street corners of the do-wop singers to the Top 40 charts, from the 15-minute show Nat King Cole briefly had in 1957 to the hit that "In Living Color" has become in 1990.
The success of Motown, which brought so many black performers into the consciousness of white America, happens to be a perfect example of this phenomenon, so it provides a reason for looking at what's been going on in other areas.
In addition to pop music from the likes of Motowners Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the inevitable Temps-Tops showdown, you hear from Tracy Chapman, Terence Trent D'Arby and others.
But, what's great about these two hours that will be on Channel 11 (WBAL) Sunday night at 9 o'clock, is that these names draw you into the theater where you also get Debbie Allen and an impressive troupe showing how African-American dance has evolved, Wilhelmenia Fernandez celebrating the emergence of people of color in the opera, Robert Guillame making a similar statement in song about the musical theater, a duet from members of the Dance Theater of Harlem showing the recognition of blacks in classical ballet, as well as Denzel Washington talking about movies.
"Motown 30: What's Goin' On!" is a tour de force performance that reminds you how lucky we are in this country that our stages and screens, our radios and record players, bring us so many influences from so many countries.