Two legends of Motown will belt out the opening notes of the season — their hands will clap with the rhythm, their feet will tap and their smiles will sparkle just as they did back in the 1960s, when The Temptations and the Four Tops climbed the charts and black soul started commanding mainstream audiences.
Those pop icons will take the stage at 8:15 p.m. Saturday in the Amphitheater. “My Girl” singers The Temptations will start the show, then Detroit natives the Four Tops will finish out the soulful evening.
“Motown is a rich artform,” said Deborah Sunya Moore, vice president and director of programming. “The Four Tops and The Temptations are just classic groups that represent that Motown era, and that whole era had such a critical role when we were talking about racial integration in music.”
After forming in the 1950s, the Four Tops started making a name for themselves in the 1960s, performing blends of pop and jazz tunes. They sang backup on a few records by The Supremes before knocking the band off the top spot of the Billboard Hot 100 with their hit “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” Tenors front most similar groups, making the Four Tops’ baritone lead unique.
“You’ve got The Temptations with 100,000 hits, and then you’ve got the Four Tops with 100,000 hits,” said Fred Bridges, the Four Tops’ longtime tour manager. “It’s back-to-back hits.”
One member of each original lineup will be singing on stage in the Amp: Otis Williams is still touring with The Temptations, and Abdul “Duke” Fakir is singing with the Four Tops.
“The people of Chautauqua can expect one great show this weekend,” Williams said. “They can expect the high-stepping, soulful sounds that have always been so well received.”
The Temptations entered the zeitgeist with classics such as 1964’s “My Girl” and 1972’s “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone.” Williams said he still feels blessed and joyful when he takes to the stage to sing those songs, even after so many years.
The son of another original member of the Four Tops will be taking his father’s place on stage. Bridges said Lawrence Payton Jr. fills his father’s role nicely.
“He has his father’s gift,” Bridges said. “When you hear the Tops today, you really hear what the Tops sounded like so many years ago.”
In 2016, The Temptations have played 15-song sets that usually begin with their 1966 hit “Get Ready.” Moore said audiences need to start getting ready for “a great time” Saturday night, as the bands will have the crowd grooving and dancing.
“It will be a fabulously intergenerational show that everyone could enjoy,” Moore said. “It’s dance music. It’s singing music. I think people could come with all generations just to have a fun, exciting opening night at Chautauqua.”
Moore also appreciated the symbolism of having such acts perform.
“To me the whole era of Motown celebrates not only that era but how far we’ve come,” Moore said. “To have Motown in the Amphitheater is a real statement of how celebration-worthy and important it was to have that integration into popular music.”
Bridges said each group will play for roughly 70 minutes with a 15-minute intermission between sets. They alternate which act opens with every performance, and The Temptations will open Saturday.
“We’ve been doing this for 30 years, and it will be one heck of a show,” Bridges said.