Label Profile
Motown Records

motown/Tamla was officially started on January 12th, 1959 by Berry Gordy, Jr. Gordy spent the eight-hundred dollars he borrowed from his family to open up what he would later term “Hitsville U.S.A.” located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan. Not but a year passed and “Please Mister Postman” hit the charts, as written by the Marvelettes and Gordy. Groundbreaking in his time and to this day, Gordy was involved in every single step of the creative process. He singlehandedly drafted the artists, helped write the songs, promoted the music, and instead of giving up royalties and awards to a major publishing company, he had thought ahead and produced Jobete, his own publishing company. By 1960, he was in control of every aspect of Motown records. Is it any wonder that Motown has such a signature sound?

Not happy with just being popular in black niches, Gordy saw his mission to bring black music to America. He saw his music as “The sounds of young America”. He almost monopolized the early 60’s trend of Girl Pop with Martha and The Vandelles and the Marvelettes, but this was not enough for the aspiring music mogul. To be accepted all over the nation, he knew that he needed to clean up the Motown acts. They had the sound, but he knew they needed the look. After employing Maxine Powell, a modeling school teacher, and Cholly Atkins, a choreographer, Gordy got the look he wanted for all his acts and created a formula for success. Also, he bred a feeling of competition between the groups to create better and better music. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Four Tops and The Temptations are just some of the names that sprang from this mold. In 1966 alone, 75% of all released Motown songs made it to the charts.

Spawning and inspiring other movements, Motown proved to be one of the strongest labels in the history of popular music by its height. At the time, there was a strong soul movement, and Motown embodied the Detroit sound, one of the four cities cited when mentioning the “big four” in soul. There was “that Philadelphia sound” that included the O’Jays and Johnny Mathis. Also, there was the Chicago sound - Jackie Wilson and early Sam Cooke. Lastly, was the Memphis sound, which was characterized by the Stax Label. This housed acts like Booker T and the MG’s, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and oddly enough, a small Memphis band by the name of Big Star.

After a long streak of poor sales, Berry Gordy, Jr. sold Motown records to MCA in 1988. Even though the last 14 years have not been incredibly good for Motown, people will always remember “Hitsville USA” and the incredible line up. Motown was one of those labels that for a brief period in time gave the world unforgettable hits that defined an era.

Label Roster: Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Marvelettes, Isley Brothers, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, Diana Ross, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, The Jackson 5, Edwin Starr.

Ten Essential Releases:
The Marvelettes – Please Mr. Postman
The Miracles – The Fabulous Miracles
Rev. Martin Luther King – The Great March to Freedom
Martha and The Vandellas – Heat Wave
The Four Tops – Four Tops
Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – Going to a Go-Go
Stevie Wonder – My Cherie Amour
Diana Ross and the Supremes – Farewell
Jackson 5 – ABC
Marvin Gaye –What’s Going On?

By: Adam Blackbourn
Published on: 2003-09-01
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