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Motowns Amazing History

Motown was created when Berry Gordy, Jr., a songwriter, believed he was not paid fairly for his songwriting output.He had written for the up and coming Jackie Wilson for a few years and his songs brought Wilson modest successes. However, in 1958 his “Lonely Teardrops” was relatively successful. It topped the R&B charts and rose to number 7 on the pop chart. Gordy parlayed his songwriting successes into record producing. His first signed act was the Miracles, formerly known as the Matadors.

In 1959, Gordy borrowed $800 from relatives and founded Tamla Records on December 14, 1959, his first R&B label.

In 1959,Tamla’s first release was “Come to me” by Marv Johnson. In 1960 Gordy made modest gains with Mabel John’s “Who wouldn’t love a man like that” followed by “I guess there is no love.” Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s what I want)” was Tamla’s first hit and it was also Strong’s first and only hit as a vocalist. “Money” rose to number 2 on the Billboard R&B charts.

Also in 1960, “Shop Around” performed by the Miracles became Tamla’s first number 1 hit, making the Billboard magazine R&B singles chart and topping the Hot 100 at number 2. “Shop Around” was the first one-million record for the Miracles. It also made Motown a noteworthy company and later a common household name.

The Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman” was the first Tamla label to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 pop singles chart.

In 1960, Gordy produced Mary Well’s “Bye, Bye Baby” under the Motown label. Motown Records, originally was a record label home-based in Detroit, Michigan that Gordy founded on January 12, 1959 as Tamla Records.

Smokey Robinson, Lead singer with the Miracles met Gordy while waiting for an audition with another agent. This chance meeting literally turned both their worlds around. Gordy signed on to produce the Miracles in 1958, his first signed act. At the time, however, Gordy had big dreams, but little money.

The talented duo, both were songwriters, collaborated on lyrics and tunes and later created one of the company’s earlier hits “Shop around.” Encouraged by Robinson, on April 14, 1960 Gordy’s Motown Records and Tamla became incorporated as Motown Record Production, Gordy’s corporate label. That same year Robinson became Vice President of Motown Production Company and the two would go on to make Motown world renowned.

Gordy’s unique gift for ferreting out raw talents, refining them and making them phenomenal successes became legendary as many of Motown’s earlier acts were from Detroit’s inner City housing projects. He created Departments of Artist Development, Style and Poise and Stage refinement. Additionally, he employed one of the best writing teams of that era. His musicians, The Funk Brothers” were without equal and was responsible for the Motown sound.

Motown’s songwriting team was top rated. Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland was an unrivaled team and is reported to have written over 200 hit songs during the 1960s, which included both soul and R&B.

Some of their hits were “Baby Love,” by the Supremes, “Baby I need your love,” by the Four Tops, “Can’t Help Myself,” by The Four Tops, “How Sweet it is to be loved by you,” Marvin Gaye, “Reach Out, I’ll be there,” The Four Tops, “Stop! In the name of love,” by The Supremes, “This old heart of mine,” by the Isley Brothers, “Where did our love go,” ” You keep me hanging on,” and “You can’t hurry love” all by The Supremes.

Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown in 1967 over royalty dispute, which set Motown on a decline in quality; it was never able to overcome. There were also fewer hits after their departure.

Motown’s sound was distinct and was typified by lots of tambourines to accentuate the back beat, handclapping, foot-tapping drum parts, high-pitched horns, unique melodic and chord structures, and the interchange between lead singers and the backup vocalists. Gordy assembled a highly talented and committed group of musicians who were collectively known as the “Funk Brothers.”

This group consisted of Keyboardists Earl Van Dyke, Johnny Griffith and Joe Hunter. Guitarists were Robert White, Joe Messina, and Eddie Willis. The Percussionists were Jack Ashford and Eddie “Bongo” Brown. Drummers were Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones and Richard “Pistol” Allen. The Bassists were Bob Babbitt and James Jamerson. This group played on more “number-one” records than the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Beach Boys all combined.

In the 60s Motown signed on such act as Mabel John, Barrett Strong, The Miracles (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) Mary Wells, Edward Holland, Jr., The Andantes, The Contours, David Ruffin, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Ruffin, Kim Weston, Dorsey Brunette, Brenda Holloway, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Chris Clark, Tammi Terrell,The Monitors, The Spinners

The Isley Brothers, The Elgins, The Originals, Syreeta Wright, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, Edwin Starr, Rare Earth, R. Dean Taylor, Howard Crockett, Carolyn Crawford, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Commodores, The Velvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder and the Jackson 5.

In the 70s Motown was further enriched by Ashford and Simpson, Diana Ross, Kiki Dee, Stoney & Meatloaf, Eddie Kendrick, G.C Cameron, Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Thelma Houston, The Commodores, The Undisputed Truth, Rick James and Bonnie Pointer.

In the 80s Motown signed on such notables as DeBarge, Rockwell, Lionel Richie, Teena Marie and Chico DeBarge.

This is a new era of Motown as Berry Gordy sold his ownership in Motown to Music Corporation of America (MCA) and Boston Ventures in June 1988 for $61 million. 1990 artists are Boyz II Men, Tony!Toni! Tone!, Shanice, Johnny Gill, Brian McKnight, Queen Latifah, Erykah Badu, 702, 98 Degrees, and Debelah Morgan.

Dave Hollister, India Arie, Her Sanity, JenE, Black Coffey, Tray and Journalist, Q-Tip, Michael McDonald, Sharissa, Trina Broussard, Dina Rae, Trick Trick, Yummy Bingham, Kem, Damian Marley, Stephen Marley and Penelope Jones.

Motown’s place in music history is well established and though many of the artists of the 1960s and 1970s are now probably living in gilded memories of that time, but for many outside of Motown it will always be looked upon as a time of great promise and enormous opportunities for all.