Songwriters Hall of Fame Master Session: USC Students in Awe of Mickey Stevenson

Songwriters Hall Of Fame inductee William “Mickey” Stevenson recently graced the Carson Sound Stage at USC for an inspiring and educational SHOF Master Session held for students that was moderated by Patrice Rushen, a SHOF Board Member and Chair of the Popular Music Program at USC Thornton School of Music.

 As a legendary songwriter, producer, musician and the head of Motown A&R during the label’s 1960s heydey, Stevenson is a pivotal figure in music history and one of the principal architects of the “Motown Sound” that is foundational to pop music. He helped developed artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, and Martha Reeves, as well as personally assembled the studio’s famous rhythm section, the Funk Brothers.

Kicking off the program, Rushen recognized the incredible 12-year relationship with SHOF, co-hosting Master Sessions that offer students unparalleled access to learn directly from some the world’s most renowned and successful songwriters in history.

Stevenson participated in an intimate and in-depth conversation with Rushen, followed by an informative Q&A and a musical tribute by USC students. Rushen showcased historic Motown photos of their top session players, producers, and key staff, and also hailed Stevenson as a songwriter and producer during Motown's Golden Era who remains as relevant today. She recounted how Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. has been quoted saying Stevenson is “the best A&R man who leads the list of Motown's unsung heroes.”

Stevenson shared iconic stories and spoke about various influences from his humble beginnings, losing his mother at a young age, and how entertaining soldiers while in the army helped him hone his craft. He recalled touring with Lionel Hampton and how observing Hampton’s wife work with the orchestra helped him learn how to work with other musicians and understand personalities in order to better empower them. He said, “That's a tough job because people have resistance, and people around them tell 'em what they can't do…If you're going to be a leader, you gotta learn how to get to that point that they will listen and understand.”

That Magic Moment: Hearing Stevie Wonder for the First Time

Stevenson recalled that magical moment when Clarence Avant asked him to listen to Stevie Wonder, who was only 11 years old. “He reaches in his pocket, pulled out a little harmonica…I said wow!” He said he went straight to Berry Gordy’s office and said, “I got this little kid over here. We gotta sign him, and he said, ‘Well okay, sign him.’ I said, ‘Hold up. He's about 11 years old, and he's blind.’ He said, ‘Yeah, sign the kid. He's got gifts I've never seen before.’”

Dancing in the Street: Martha Reeves Cuts the Demo in 2 Takes… and the Rest is History

He told a story about how Martha Reeves convinced him to hire her as his personal secretary and later got her big break after he asked her to sing on the demo for “Dancing in the Street,” at three in the morning. The hit, which he produced as well as co-wrote with Marvin Gaye and Ivy Jo Hunter, was recorded by Reeves in two takes, and the rest is history. Stevenson said, “The moral to that story for us is... you better be ready because something may happen where you gotta be up and you'll just do it, and it could make all the difference.”

“We all have gifts, two and three gifts, some...more. If you can tune into that, you are in a no-lose position. You must tune in…Let no one tell you that you don't have it." - Mickey Stevenson

On Recognizing Your Gift

As a recurring theme throughout the event, Stevenson impressed upon the students to always recognize their “gift.” “We all have gifts, two and three gifts, some...more. If you can tune into that, you are in a no-lose position. You must tune in…Let no one tell you that you don't have it, ‘cause you have to have something feeling to know that you got it on your own,” he said.
Closing out the event was a musical tribute by a brilliant ensemble of talented USC music students, who performed several of Stevenson’s hits. The event was attended by members of the SHOF West Coast Events Committee, including SHOF board member Donna Caseine, Michael Pizzuto, Michael Todd, Mary Jo Mennella, Chair and SHOF board member, and Vice Chair Barbara Cane.

Watch the master session on youtube here.

SHOF inductee Mickey Stevenson is a prolific songwriter, known for co-writing signature Motown hits recorded by artists such as:

Stevie Wonder ("Nothing's Too Good For My Baby")

Marvin Gaye ("Pride and Joy," "Hitch Hike")

Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston ("It Takes Two")

Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye ("What's the Matter with You Baby")

Kim Weston ("Love Me All The Way," "I Got What You Need")

Martha and the Vandellas ("Dancing in the Street," "My Baby Loves Me," "What am I Going to Do Without Your Love")

The Marvelettes ("Playboy," "Twistin' Postman," "Beechwood4-5789")

Frederick “Shorty” Long ("Devil with the Blue Dress)

...and many more!