Workshop offers students chance to work with Motown legends on ‘song of hope’ for Detroit

In this time of social change, young people in southeastern Michigan are getting the opportunity of a lifetime to learn how to write their own lyrics and create their own music with the help of some Motown legends. 

“Everybody, no matter how successful they are, they had to start with their very first song at some point,” Kris Johnson said.

That’s what local musician Kris Johnson wants young people to remember when signing up for the Motown Museum Lyric Project.

Students will get the chance to learn how to write their own songs in Motown Museum’s free two-week online workshop.

“The purpose of the program is to welcome students at any skill level -- just to have a means of self-expression, to have a medium and a platform - for them to be able to say the things that are on their mind and to be able to cultivate their ideas,” Kris said.

Kris is the lead instructor. The accomplished artist -- who’s worked on 5 Grammy Nominated albums -- believes now more than ever -- in this period of social change -- young people need to learn how to express their ideas.

“They’re looking at the way that the world is being shaped and it’s something that they're going to be very responsible for. So right now, what better opportunity than to provide them an opportunity to really start to kind of tell their story,”

Emily Harper from Motown Museum says creating social chang is what Motown is all about.

“Motown has always been on the forefront of encouraging and empowering social change, and amplifying the voices of the people and perspectives that need to be heard,” she said.

For example, Motown Records founder Berry Gordy financially and morally supported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement. Motown Museum wants to show young people they can make a difference too.

“If our youth have an opportunity to be part of the conversations that are helping to shape our collective futures, then it inspires something inside themselves and then will continue to inspire them as leaders,” she said.

That’s why at the end of the workshop, some students will create a Song of Hope about these social issues for the City of Detroit -- collaborating with legendary Motown record producer and songwriter Brian Holland.

“They actually will be creating a hit song for the City of Detroit,” Harper said.

That song will be arranged by Motown Funk Brother and music arranger Paul Riser Sr. -- who worked on hits like My Girl by The Temptations -- then professionally recorded by award-winning music director Kern Brantley.

“They have access to people that know how to do it. They can really start to understand the culture and the process,” Kris said.

Kris says his hope is students get to really see what that process is like.

“What it’s like to collaborate with other students, and what it’s also like to collaborate with these dynamic Motown legends, Brian Holland and Paul Riser Sr. - for them to really understand that there’s a very high level to this and they have something then to aspire to,” he said.

“One of our lessons is talking about how students can create songs that are very compelling and talk about lyrics can help to form storytelling. So the idea is that our words have a lot of power, and with our powerful words, we’re able to convey different messages. There are a lot of tools and tactics that can be used, and that can actually be taught, that can make those stories more convincing."

Young people ages 13 to 18 can sign up for the free workshop that runs July 27-Aug. 7. Registration is open now, visit or email For more information on Motown Museum, visit 

Johnson said workshop faculty involves several esteemed artists, including:

The Motown Museum Lyric Project is part of the first phase of our expansion project called Hitsville Next. It will be an entire campus dedicated to providing innovative, educational, community, and entrepreneurial programs.

The lyric project is supported by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, “so a huge thank you to them,” Harper said.