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motown records

Motown Records

Motown Records became one of the most influential record labels over the last 50 years.

Formed in 1959, the label not only positively promototed the music of Black America, it did so in tandem with navigating the music into the mainstream.

'Motown' stood for the two words 'Motor' and 'Town' combined, a descriptive term based upon the Motor Industries based in the labels place of birth, namely Detroit.

Detroit was known as the Motor City, derived from the fact that many workers in the City were working out of the Ford Motor Company works based in the Michigan city.

Berry Gordy berry gordy on joe louis bill 1948

Berry Gordy Jnr, an ex boxer and jazz store worker, set up the label in the 12th of January 1959. Back then the label was known as Tamla Records.

A year later, on the 14th of April 1960, the label became known as the Motown Record Corporation.

In between 1959 and 1968, the company offices were based in the Detroit based Hitsville Studio's (as shown above).

The offices did not completely relocate to it's Los Angeles base intil 1972, by which time the Motown Sound had diminished somewhat, with the company sound developing a less innocent, and more mature sound.

Berry Gordy was an excellent songwriter, as well as a very shrewd businessman.

He penned songs for Jackie Wilson prior to setting up the Anna imprint, along with his sisters Anna and Gwen in 1959.

Motown was set up as a result of Berry negotiating a family loan of $800, wanting to name the company, originally, Tammy Records.

That name was already in use, so the name became abbreviated to Tamla, thus the label was born.

One of the first groups he signed to Motown were an ensemble called the Matadors, who were later to become the group the Miracles.

Smokey Robinson soon became the Vice President of the label, with Gwen and Anna Gordy had joining the label in administrative positions as well.

Berry's original loan financed the release of singles by Marv Johnson and Eddie Holland on his Tamla imprint, one of a series of individual label trademarks that he eventually included under the Motown umbrella.

Purchasing the Hitsville offices, Berry Gordy added to his artistic roster, signing acts including the Temptations and Marvelettes in 1960.

Other Tamla artists were Mable John, Barrett Strong, Martha Reeves and the Vandella's, the Four Tops, the Velvelettes, the Elgins, R Dean Taylor, the Supremes, Jimmy Ruffin, Jnr Walker and the Allstars, Chris Clark, the Monitors, the Spinners, the Jackson Five, Edwin Starr, Syreeta Wright, Brenda Holloway, Barbara McNair, Kim Weston, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, Diana Ross, Eddie Kendricks, the Undisputed Truth, Jermaine Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Mary Jane Girls, the Dazz Band, the Contours and (on the Motown label) Mary Wells.

Marv JohnsonBarrett Strong

The label's first Tamla release was Marv Johnson's 'Come to Me' in 1959.

Its first chart hit was Barrett Strong's 'Money (That's What I Want)', released the same year, which made it to number 2 on the Billboard R & B charts.

The MiraclesMarvelettes

That year, the Miracles' 'Shop Around' gave the company its first major U.S. hit, followed in 1961 by their first number 1, the Marvelettes 'Please Mr Postman'.

Berry then coined the phrase 'The Sound Of Young America' to describe Motown's output.


By the mid-1960s, the label, with the help of songwriters and producers such as Smokey Robinson, A & R chief William "Mickey" Stevenson, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Norman Whitfield, became a major force in the music industry.

Norman Whitfield norman whitfield

By 1964, Motown were enjoying regular hits via the Supremes and the Four Tops, whilst Mary Wells' 'My Guy' helped promote the label oversea's.

In 1966, Motown enrolled newer artists such as the Isley Brothers and Gladys Knight And The Pips from rival labels, opening a Hollywood office to double its promotional capabilities, and purchasing the Golden World and Ric-Tic group of R & B companies.

The mid-70's proved to be Motown's least successful period for over a decade.

Donavan Building the donovan building

In 1968, Berry Gordy purchased the Donovan building on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Interstate 75, and relocated Motown's Detroit offices to L.A.

By the early Seventies the company had loosened its production rules, allowing some of its longtime artists the chances to write and produce more of their own material.

This resulted in the recordings of some of the most successful and critically acclaimed albums of that era.

These releases included Marvin Gaye's 'What's Going On' (1971) and 'Let's Get it On' (1973), and Stevie Wonder's 'Music of My Mind' (1971), 'Talking Book' (1972), Innervisions (1973), 'Fulfillingness First Finale (1974) and 'Songs In The Key Of Life' (1976).

By 1975, the label had lost the Holland, Dozier, Holland songwriting team (with Lamont Dozier pursuing a successful solo career), but had recruited the likes of the Commodores, Teena Marie, DeBarge, Boyz II Men, New Edition and Rick James to the label's ranks.

By the mid-1980s, Motown was losing money, and Berry Gordy sold his ownership in Motown to Music Corporation of America (MCA) and Boston Ventures in June 1988 for $61 million.

Several further executives were appointed by MCA to run the company, beginning with Berry Gordy's immediate successor, Jheryl Busby.

Busby became disillusioned with with MCA, alleging that the company did not give Motown's product adequate attention or promotion.

By 1994, Busby was replaced by Andre Harrell, the entrepreneur behind Uptown Records.

Harrell served as Motown's CEO for just under two years, leaving the company after following poor publicity.

Danny Goldberg, who ran PolyGram's Mercury Records group, assumed control of Motown, and George Jackson served as president.

The Donovan building, once purchased in 1968, was later demolished in January 2006 to provide parking spaces for Super Bowl XL.

The same year, Gordy purchased Golden World Records, and its recording studio became 'Studio B' to Hitsville's 'Studio A'.

Jhery Busby passed away in 2007.

From 1961 to 1971, Motown achieved 110 top 10 hits and celebrated it's fiftieth birthday in 2009.

...check out the Motown Gallery at this site right here....

...or find out more about the Motown in house band, the Funk Brothers, right here....

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