Detroit, Michigan, January 4, 1937, William Stevenson entered the scene and went onto become a legendary American singer songwriter and A & R ( artists and repertoire) man for the dream come true Motown. He became known affectionately as “Mickey”, “Il Duce” as named by a member of the Funk Brothers, composed of extraordinary talented musicians which he recruited from nightspots to form Motown’s studio band. He was known as “William R” used by Marvin Gaye and others. Silver Fox is also a popular nick name for him. Somewhere along the line he acquired the title of “Sir”. He also became Avery Vandenburq to fool would be gatekeepers which blocked anyone of color. Since they saw his sheet music but not his face. Who knew? And it worked. How ironic it was that so-called “Whites” spent precious money in sun tan parlors to get “Brown”. But during the 60’s racial turmoil was the order of the day including riots. It was the time of Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King whose dream was to just give everyone a chance to be their best in a just world. And like the late Godfather of Soul James Brown said, “Just open up the door, I’ll get it myself”. Mickey endured , survived those times and did well by those he served. His reputation helping musicians, artists, writers eventually reached Berry Gordy.
Mickey had aspired to be a recording star like Jackie Wilson and when he met Berry Gordy at a barber shop he could barely contain himself. The two men exchanged contact information and he met Berry at a building Mickey described as “ghetto fabulous”. Berry greeted Mickey in his little apartment and gave Mickey the opportunity to unload his briefcase of original music. At the time Mickey was so impressed with Berry Gordy whose hit songs had propelled Jackie Wilson to success. But in spite of Mickey’s history as a performer including his stint as a Hamptone on tour, and earlier foundation of Gospel and Doo Wop, even a first place winner at the Apollo with his two brothers as a child promoted by his mother, Kitty “Brown Gal” Stevenson, a prominent jazz singer. Berry was not impressed with Mickey’s singing. Insulted, Mickey only stopped when Berry offered him the first A & R job 1959, the year Tamla/ Motown was formed.
Mickey’s tenacity, perseverance, focus, drive, love of Hitsville USA and Motown family was the engine that drove the machine. Household names emerged from the string of hits such as Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Kim Weston, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Isley Brothers and more. To his credit Mickey wrote and collaborated many hit songs such as his favorite, “Dancing in the Street” (Martha Reeves & the Vandellas), which he co-wrote with Ivy Jo Hunter and Marvin Gaye, “It Takes Two” (Gaye and Weston), “Ask the Lonely” for the Four Tops, Jimmy Ruffin’s “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted”, “My Baby Loves me” ( Martha & the Vandellas), “Uptight Everything’s Alright” produced for Stevie Wonder,”Stubborn Kind of Fellow” for Marvin Gaye , who incidentally had a stubborn streak as well as a great heart. “Devil with the Blue Dress On” he wrote with “Shorty” Long, who was actually so short that his feet did not reach the piano pedals. But he liked tall ladies.
After leaving Motown in 1969 he formed “People Records” which produced Kim Weston, and Hodges, James & Smith. He also formed another California label, “Raintree: which released a single by Willard King in wwww1975. Later R & B artist, Jaisun’s album reached No. 1. He also ventured into the world of musicals, of which both he and his daughter Ashley were enamored. So much so, she pursued a career in the theatre. One of his most ambitious projects is “Sang Sister Sang” and is a tribute to legendary sisters such as Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Dorothy Dandridge, Josephine Baker, Mahalia Jackson, Eartha Kitt and Lena Horne. I suggest that Tony awardee Linda Hopkins be included. She was a personal friend of mine and supporter and loyal member of 501.c3 The Rose Breast Cancer Society, a “Living Memorial” to my mother.
Mickey is still active and given some attention to relevant topics. He produced “I Can’t Breathe” based on the recent George Floyd incident which sparked global attention to police brutality in America. Deitrich Haddon recorded the song and performed it on “the View” viewed by Whoopi Goldberg & company.
June 16, 2022 at the Marriott Marquis, in the heart of Times Square, the 51st Induction into the Songwriter Hall of Fame honorees will include William “Mickey” Stevenson, Mariah Carey, Annie Lennox, Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics, The Isley Brothers, Steve Miller, and Paul Williams. The nominating committee included the entire membership of two thousand. To Mickey, “Everybody is excited about celebrating you and your music!”, Linda Moran CEO and President of The Songwriters Hall of Fame.