DETROIT (AP) — An 1877 Steinway grand piano used by Motown greats during the label’s 1960s heyday, and restored thanks to Paul McCartney, is back home in Detroit, officials announced Monday.
Steinway technicians delivered the 9-foot Victorian rosewood to the “Hitsville, U.S.A,” building midday Monday and workers set it up in a former recording studio in what’s now the Motown Historical Museum.
McCartney, a longtime fan of the Motown sound who played and recorded several of the label’s songs during the Beatles’ early days, told museum officials after a 2011 concert in Detroit that he wanted to help with the piano’s refurbishment after learning the historic instrument no longer could be played.
During his museum tour, McCartney played a different piano bearing a sign that read, “Please do not touch.” He apologized and said he had to. When he came across the Steinway in Studio A, he found a cover on the keys, foiled not by a sign, but by deterioration that made the piano unplayable.
Work on the piano was completed last August, and the ex-Beatle and Motown founder Berry Gordy played it together during a September charitable event at Steinway Hall in New York City.
The instrument first made its way to Motown when the label acquired Golden World Records in 1967, a facility redubbed Motown Studio B and used by musicians and songwriters to create songs by Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and other Motown greats.
To celebrate the piano’s return, museum officials are inviting the public to visit Hitsville with free admission during Esther Gordy Edwards Community Day on April 25.
“This piano is part of our treasured collection of historical artifacts that tell the Motown story,” Robin Terry, the museum’s board chair, said. “We are thrilled to welcome it back home to Detroit, where it will be used to educate local students about the legendary history created in their hometown and share the Motown story for generations to come.
“We’re happy to see our baby come home,” she told the AP.
The piano was brought back to professional recording quality, 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 are being returned to the museum for exhibit.
Despite its condition upon arrival at the Steinway facility in New York, Terry said technicians described it as “one of the finest instruments they have ever worked on.” One technician listened to it “and said, ‘This piano can stand up to any concert piano anywhere,'” she said.
While historical preservation remains a priority at the museum, Terry said the restored instrument won’t be off-limits all the time — at least to special guests like McCartney who know their way around the ivories — but will need a couple weeks of readjusting to its environment.
“One of the lessons that we were learned in this process is that instruments like that have to be played,” said Terry, Berry Gordy’s grand-niece. “Our approach to the piano prior to that was not to play it and to protect it and preserve it. The truth is … it’s built to be played.”