What a great way to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Motown – by putting the iconic music in a family-friendly animated series. Since November of 2018, great music and animation have merged on Netflix with “Motown Magic.”
Now, you can watch the complete first season on the streaming network, which features 52 newly-recorded versions of the famous songs by contemporary acts such as Ne-Yo, Becky G, BJ The Chicago Kid, Calum Scott, and Trombone Shorty.
The show’s theme song is the Jackson 5’s “ABC,” sung by 11-year-old Zacary James of The Melisizwe Brothers, who have performed on “The Ellen Degeneres Show,” “Showtime at the Apollo,” “The Steve Harvey Show,” and “America’s Got Talent.”
Hailing from Alberta, Canada, James told the EUR in a recent phone interview, “I’m really honored and happy that I’m doing the theme song for the show. The show is really awesome, fun, and I’m really happy for it.”
James even got a vote of confidence from one of the famous Jackson brothers, “I love Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. (I) actually talked to Tito Jackson and he said, ‘You’re going to do a wonderful job and keep on doing what you’re doing.’ It was very cool.”
James and his brothers, who all play multiple instruments, also went viral when millions watched their video version of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There” a few years ago. But the trio can also throw down singing other Motown hits. Even though he is only a preteen, James added that Motown is very special.
“Motown really touches my heart. It’s always something you can listen to. I’ve loved it since I was two. Stevie Wonder is my favorite artist. Meeting him was really awesome. He bought me and (my brothers instruments).”
Josh Wakely, the “Motown Magic” creator and executive producer, had an exhaustive search looking for the voice of a young Michael Jackson. The Australian native said in an EUR phone interview that when he received a video of James, he knew he was the one. But the real test would be hearing James sing live in a recording studio.
“I’ve worked with some big artists and they’ve done great performances but often they take a day, a day and a half, or even a week to get the songs right, but he did it in one take,” Wakely said. “I turned to my engineer in the recording studio and was like, ‘That’s close to perfect, let’s do that again, that was a fluke.’ He was perfect every time.”
Wakely, who is not new to children’s programming, created another children’s show two years ago, the Emmy-winning “Beat Bugs,” inspired by The Beatles’ music. After that success, Wakely started working on “Motown Magic” three years ago.
After getting the blessings of Motown mogul Berry Gordy, Motown executive Clarence Avant, and Stevie Wonder, when it came to choosing the Executive Music Producer for the animated series, Wakely sought the legendary Smokey Robinson. In addition to singing, Robinson also wrote many Motown hits for other artists.
“I thought Smokey Robinson was a good pick to get a final blessing because he was both a hugely influential artist, who was a mentor to Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and a whole bunch of people but he was also involved in the business of it all. He was the perfect person to bridge both sides.”
The super-cute series centers on a young boy named Ben, who transforms his city with a magic paintbrush against a backdrop of the Motown sound and street-art.
Armed with degrees in business and theatre, newcomer Avia Fields plays Ben but she is not a child or a boy. However, the Alabama native told the EUR she was the right person for the role.
“He’s so similar to me,” said Fields. “He’s smart, creative, likes to read, and values academics like I did. The little bit of shyness and awkwardness was pretty much my personality as a kid.”
After graduating from college and moving to New York to pursue musical theater, the Alabama native often looked for auditions in Backstage, a performance arts trade publication. However, one day, she glanced at a section she never bothered to look at before.
“It was so random because I never looked at the voiceover auditions,” said Fields. “I was home for the weekend and ‘Motown Magic’ popped up and I fell in love. It was a stroke of fate.”