- Motown Records
:"Motown" redirects here. For the city, see
Detroit, Michigan."infobox record label
The classic Motown logo.
Universal Music Group
founded = January 12th 1959
The Universal Motown/Universal Republic Group
Rhythm and blues
url = http://www.motown.com
Motown Records, also known as Tamla Motown outside of
North America, is a record labeloriginally based in Detroit, Michigan. Founded by Berry Gordyas Tamla Records on January 12, 1959, the company was incorporated as Motown Record Corporation in 1960. The name, a portmanteauderived from the words "motor" and "town", is also a nickname for Detroit.
Motown played an important role in the
racial integrationof popular music, as it was the first record label owned by an African Americanto primarily feature African-American artists who achieved crossover success. In the 1960s, Motown and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as "The Motown Sound", a style of soul musicwith a distinct pop influence.
Motown has owned or distributed releases from more than 45 subsidiaries in varying genres, although it is most famous for its releases in the
music genres of rhythm and blues, soul, hip hop and pop. Motown Records left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972, and remained an independent company until June 28, 1988, when Gordy sold the company to MCA. Now headquartered in New York City, Motown Records is a subsidiary of The Universal Motown/Universal Republic Group, itself a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.
“Hitsville USA”: 1959–1972
Berry Gordy got his start as a songwriter for local Detroit acts such as
Jackie Wilsonand The Matadors. Wilson's single “Lonely Teardrops”, written by Gordy, became a huge success; however, Gordy did not feel he made as much money as he deserved from this and other singles he wrote for Wilson. He realized that the more lucrative end of the business was in producing records and owning the publishing.
In 1959, Billy Davis and Berry Gordy's sisters Gwen and Anna started Anna Records. Davis and Gwen Gordy wanted Berry to be the company president, but Berry wanted to strike out on his own. Therefore, in 1959, he started Tamla Records, with an $800 loan from his family. Gordy originally wanted to name the label "Tammy" Records, after the popular song by
Debbie Reynolds. When he found the name was already in use, he decided on Tamla instead.
Gordy's first signed act was The Matadors, a group he had written and produced songs for, who changed their name to
The Miracleswhen Tamla signed them. Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinsonbecame the vice president of the company (and later named his daughter "Tamla" and his son "Berry" out of gratitude to Gordy and the label). Many of Gordy's family members, including his father Berry, Sr., brothers Robert and George, and sister Esther, had instrumental roles in the company. By the middle of the decade, Gwen and Anna Gordy had joined the label in administrative positions as well.
Also in 1959, Gordy purchased the property that would become Tamla's
Hitsville U.S.A.studio. The photography studio located in the back of the property was modified into a small recording studio and the Gordys moved into the second floor living quarters. Within a few years, Motown would occupy several neighbouring houses with administrative offices, mixing, mastering and rehearsal studios.
Among Tamla's early artists were
Mable John, Barrett Strongand (on the Motown label) Mary Wells. Tamla's first release was Marv Johnson's "Come to Me" in 1959. Its first hit was Barrett Strong's " Money (That's What I Want)" (1959), which made it to #2 on the Billboard R&B charts; its first #1 R&B hit was " Shop Around" by the Miracles in 1960. "Shop Around" peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100, and was Motown's first million-selling record. Also in 1960, Gordy launched Motown Records as a sister label. Because of the "Motown" name's association with "Motor City" Detroit, the blanket record company under which both Motown Records and Tamla Records operated was incorporated as "Motown Record Corporation". A year later, The Marvelettesscored Tamla's first US #1 pop hit, " Please Mr. Postman." By the mid-1960s, the label, with the help of songwriters and producers such as Robinson, William "Mickey" Stevenson, Brian Holland, LamontDozier, and Norman Whitfield, was a major force in the music industry.
The first white act to record for Motown was the Valadiers. In 1961, their recording of "Greetings, This Is Uncle Sam," although popular in the East and the Mid-West, barely made the charts nationally. The song was also a modest hit for the Monitors a few years later.cite news
title=The Valadiers Biography
From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 Top Ten hits, and artists such as
Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross& The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Jackson 5, were all signed to Motown labels. The company operated several labels in addition to the Tamla and Motown imprints. A third label, which Gordy named after himself, featured The Temptations, The Contours, and Martha and the Vandellas. A fourth, V.I.P., released recordings by The Velvelettesand The Spinners, and a fifth, Soul, featured Jr. Walker & the All Stars, Jimmy Ruffin, and Gladys Knight & the Pips(who were the first act to have been successful before joining Motown, as 'The Pips' on Vee-Jay). Many more Motown-owned labels released recordings in other genres, including Workshop Jazz (jazz), Mel-o-dy (country), and Rare Earth (rock). Under the slogan "The Sound of Young America", Motown's acts were enjoying widespread popularity among black and white audiences alike.
In Britain, Motown's records were released on various labels: at first London (only the Miracles' "Shop Around"/"
Who's Lovin' You" and "Ain't It Baby"), then Fontana ("Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes was one of four), Oriole American ("Fingertips - Pt. 2" by Little Stevie Wonder was one of many), EMI's Stateside (" Where Did Our Love Go" by the Supremes and " My Guy" by Mary Wells were Motown's first British top-twenty hits), and finally EMI's Tamla-Motown (" Ain't That Peculiar" by Marvin Gaye among many others). [ [http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Venue/6784/labels.html DragonDiscs - Label Listings ] ]
Developing the “Motown Sound”
Motown’s music was crafted with the same ear towards pop appeal. The company specialized in a type of soul music it referred to with the
trademark"The Motown Sound". The Motown Sound was typified by a number of characteristics: the use of tambourines to accent the back beat, prominent and often melodic electric bass guitarlines, distinctive melodic and chord structures, and a call and response singing style that originated in gospel music. In addition, pop production techniques such as the use of orchestral string sections, charted horn sections, and carefully arranged background vocals were also used. Complex arrangements and elaborate, melismatic vocal riffs were avoided; [Chin, Brian and Nathan, David (2000). "Reflections Of..." The Supremes [CD boxed set liner notes] . New York: Motown Record Co./Universal Music.] Motown producers believed steadfastly in the " KISS principle" ("keep it simple, stupid") [Williams, Otis and Romanowski, Patricia (1988, updated 2002). Temptations. Lanham, MD: Cooper Square. ISBN 0-8154-1218-5. Page 157.]
Berry Gordy used weekly quality control meetings, held every Friday morning, and veto power to ensure that only the very best material and performances the company came up with would be released. The test was that every new release needed to "fit" into a sequence of the top 5 selling pop singles of the week. As a result, several tracks which later became critical and commercial favorites were initially rejected by Gordy; the two most notable examples being a pair of Marvin Gaye songs, "
I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and " What's Going On". In several cases, producers would re-work and re-re-work tracks in hopes of eventually getting them approved at a later Friday morning meeting, as producer Norman Whitfielddid with "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" and The Temptations' " Ain't Too Proud to Beg".
Many of Motown's best-known songs, such as all of the early hits for
The Supremes, were written by the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland(brothers Brian & Eddie Hollandand colleague Lamont Dozier). Other important producers and songwriters at Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. recording studioand headquarters included Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, Frank Wilson, Motown artists Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gayeand Stevie Wonder, and Gordy himself.
The many artists and producers of Motown Records collaborated to produce numerous hit songs, although the process has been described as factory-like (such as the
Brill Building). The Hitsville studios remained open and active 22 hours a day, and artists would often be on tour for weeks, come back to Detroit to record as many songs as possible, and then promptly set back out on tour again.
The style created by the Motown musicians was a major influence on several non-Motown artists of the mid-1960s, such as
Dusty Springfieldand The Foundations. In the United Kingdom, the Motown Sound became the basis of the northern soulmovement. Smokey Robinson said the Motown Sound had little to do with Detroit:
"People would listen to it, and they'd say, 'Aha, they use more bass. Or they use more drums.' no way. When we were first successful with it, people were coming from Germany, France, Italy, Mobile, Alabama. From New York, Chicago, California. From "everywhere". Just to record in Detroit. They figured it was in the air, that if they came to Detroit and recorded on the freeway, they'd get the Motown sound. Listen, the Motown sound to me is "not" an audible sound. It's spiritual, and it comes from the people that make it happen. What other people didn't realize is that we just had one studio there, but we recorded in Chicago, Nashville, New York, L.A.--almost every big city. And we still got the sound". [*Hirshey, Gerri (1994). "Nowhere to Run: The Story of Soul Music". ISBN 0-306-80581-2]
The Funk Brothers
In addition to the songwriting prowess of the writers and producers, one of the major factors in the widespread appeal of Motown's music was Gordy's practice of using a highly select and tight-knit group of studio musicians, collectively known as "
The Funk Brothers", to record the instrumental or "band" tracks of the Motown songs. Among the studio musicians responsible for the "Motown Sound" were keyboardists Earl Van Dyke, Johnny Griffith, and Joe Hunter; guitarists Joe Messina, Robert White, and Eddie Willis; percussionists Eddie "Bongo" Brownand Jack Ashford; drummers Benny Benjamin, Uriel Jones, and Richard "Pistol" Allen; and bassists James Jamersonand Bob Babbitt. The band's career and work is chronicled in the 2002 documentary film"Standing in the Shadows of Motown".
Much of the Motown Sound came from the use of overdubbed and duplicated instrumentation. Motown songs regularly featured two drummers instead of one (either overdubbed or in unison), as well as three or four guitar lines. cite video | people = Justman, Paul | title = Standing in the Shadows of Motown | medium = DVD | publisher =
Artisan Entertainment| location = Santa Monica, California| year2 = 2002 ] Bassist James Jamersonoften played his instrument with only his index finger, and created many of the basslines apparent on Motown songs such as " You Can't Hurry Love" by The Supremes.
Artist development was a major part of Motown's operations. The acts on the Motown label were fastidiously groomed, dressed and choreographed for live performances. Motown artists were advised that their breakthrough into the white popular music market made them ambassadors for other African American artists seeking broad market acceptance, and that they should think, act, walk and talk like royalty, so as to alter the less-than-dignified image commonly held by white Americans in that era of black musicians. Given that many of the talented young artists had been raised in housing projects and were short on social and dress skills, this Motown department was not only necessary, it created an elegant style of presentation long associated with the label. The artist development department specialized primarily in working with younger, less experienced acts; experienced performers such as
Jr. Walkerand Marvin Gayewere exempted from artist development classes.
Many of the young artists participated in an annual package tour called the "
Motortown Revue", which was popular first on the " chitlin' circuit", and later around the world. The tours gave the younger singers a chance to hone their performance and social skills and also to learn from more experienced artists.
“Hitsville West” 1972–1998
After Holland-Dozier-Holland left the label in 1967 over royalty payment disputes, the quality of the Motown output began to decline, as well as the frequency with which its artists scored #1 hits. Norman Whitfield became the company's top producer, turning out hits for The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Gladys Knight & the Pips. In the meantime, Berry Gordy established
Motown Productions, a television subsidiary which produced TV specials for the Motown artists, including "TCB" with Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Temptations, " Diana!" with Diana Ross, and " Goin' Back to Indiana" with The Jackson 5.
Motown had established branch offices in both
New York Cityand Los Angelesduring the mid-1960s, and by 1969 had begun gradually moving more of its operations to Los Angeles. The company moved all of its operations to Los Angeles after 1972, with a number of artists, among them Martha Reeves, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, and Motown's Funk Brothers studio band, either staying behind in Detroit or leaving the company for other reasons. The main objective of Motown's relocation was to branch out into the motion pictureindustry, and Motown Productions got its start in film by turning out two hit vehicles for Diana Ross: the Billie Hollidaybiographical film "Lady Sings the Blues" (1972), and "Mahogany" (1975). Other Motown films would include " Thank God It's Friday" (1978), "The Wiz" (1978) and " Berry Gordy's The Last Dragon" (1985).
Despite losing Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, and a number of its other hitmakers by 1975, Motown still had a number of successful artists during the late 1970s and 1980s, including
Lionel Richieand The Commodores, Rick James, Teena Marieand DeBarge. 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. In 1989, Gordy sold the Motown Productions TV/film operations to Motown executive Suzanne de Passe, who renamed the company de Passe Entertainmentand runs it to this day.
During the 1990s, Motown was home to successful recording artists such as
Boyz II Menand New Editionmember Johnny Gill, although the company itself remained in a state of turmoil. A revolving door of executives were appointed by MCA to run the company, beginning with Berry Gordy's immediate successor, Jheryl Busby. Busby quarreled with MCA, alleging that the company did not give Motown's product adequate attention or promotion. In 1991, Motown sued MCA to have its distribution deal with the company terminated, and began releasing its product through PolyGram. Polygram purchased Motown from Boston Ventures three years later. In 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 receiving bad publicity for being inefficient. Danny Goldberg, who ran PolyGram's Mercury Recordsgroup, assumed control of Motown, and George Jackson served as president.
Universal Motown: 1999–present
By 1998, Motown had added stars such as 702,
Brian McKnight, and Erykah Baduto its roster. In December 1998, PolyGram was acquired by Seagram, and Motown was folded into the Universal Music Group. Ironically, Seagram had purchased Motown’s former parent MCA in 1995, as such Motown was in effect reunited with many of its MCA corporate siblings (Seagram had in fact, hoped to build a media empire around Universal, and started by purchasing PolyGram). Universal briefly considered shuttering the floundering label, but instead decided to restructure it. Kedar Massenburg, a producer for Erykah Badu, became the head of the label, and oversaw successful recordings from Badu, McKnight, Michael McDonald, and new Motown artist India.Arie.
In 2005, Massenburg was replaced by
Sylvia Rhone, former CEO of Elektra Records. Motown was merged with Universal Recordsto create the Universal Motown Records Group, an umbrella division of Universal Music which oversees the releases and catalogs for Motown, Universal, Blackground, Republic, Cash Money, Casablanca, and other labels. Motown's current roster includes R&B singers India.Arie, Erykah Badu, Mýa, Kem, and Yummy Bingham, pop singer Lindsay Lohanin 2008 signed with Motown, reggae singers Damian and Stephen Marley, and rappers Trick Trickand Nick Cannon.
Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, and The Temptations had remained with the label since its early days (although both Ross and the Temptations each briefly recorded for other labels for several years). Ross left Motown from 1981 to 1988, but returned in 1989 and stayed until 2002. Robinson left the label briefly in 1999, and the Temptations in 2004. Wonder is today the only artist from Motown's "classic" period still on the label. Modern Motown releases feature a new stylized "M" logo for the label; reissues of classic Motown material continue to use the mod "M" logo first introduced in 1965.
Motown subsidiary labels
* Motown Records: Established 1960, Motown was and remains the company's main label for mainstream R&B/soul music (and, today,
hip hop musicas well). The label's numbering system was combined with those of Tamla and Gordy in 1982, and the label (and company) was purchased by MCA in 1988. Notable Motown artists have included Mary Wells, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Jackson 5, Boyz II Men, The Commodores, and Erykah Badu.
* Tamla Records: Established 1959; Tamla was a primary subsidiary for mainstream R&B/soul music. Tamla is actually the company's original label; Gordy incorporated Tamla Records several months before establishing the Motown Record Corporation. The label's numbering system was combined with those of Motown and Gordy in 1982, and the label was merged with Motown in 1988. Notable Tamla artists included
Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Marvelettes.
* Gordy Records: Established 1961, Gordy was also a primary subsidiary for mainstream R&B/soul music. Originally known as "Miracle Records" (slogan: "If It's a Hit, It's a Miracle"), the name was changed in 1962 to avoid confusion with the Miracles singing group. The label's numbering system was combined with those of Motown and Tamla in 1982, and the label was merged with Motown in 1988. Notable Gordy artists included
The Temptations, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, The Contours, Rick James, and DeBarge. Gordy Records slogan: "It's What's in the Grooves that Counts"
econdary R&B labels
* Check-Mate Records: Short-lived (1961–1962) secondary R&B/soul subsidiary, purchased from
Chess Records. Notable artists included David Ruffinand The Del-Phis (later Martha & the Vandellas).
* Miracle Records: Short-lived (1961) secondary R&B/soul subsidiary that lasted less than a year. Some pressings featured the infamous tagline, "If it's a hit, it's a Miracle." Shut down and reorganized as "Gordy Records" in 1962. Notable artists included
Jimmy Ruffinand early recordings by The Temptations).
* Soul Records: Established 1964, Soul was a secondary R&B/soul subsidiary for releases with less of a pop feel and/or more of a traditional soul/
bluesfeel. Notable Soul artists included Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, Gladys Knight & the Pipsand Jimmy Ruffin. The label was dissolved in 1978.
* V.I.P. Records: Established 1964, V.I.P. was a secondary R&B/soul subsidiary. Notable artists included
Shorty Long, The Velvelettes, The Spinners, The Elginsand Chris Clark. The label was dissolved in 1974.
* Mo-West Records: Mo-West was a short-lived (1971–1973) subsidiary for R&B/soul artists based on the West Coast. Shut down when the main Motown office moved to Los Angeles. Notable artists included
G.C. Cameron, Syreeta Wrightand Los Angeles DJ Tom Clay.
* Motown Yesteryear: a label created in late 1970s and used through the 1980s for the reissues of 7 inch singles from all eras of the company's history, after printing in the initial label has ceased. [http://www.diana-web.com/discography/diana/re-yesteryear.jpg] One Motown Yesteryear single made
Billboard's Top 40 - The Contours' "Do You Love Me", in 1988, when its inclusion in the film " Dirty Dancing" revived interest.
Alternative genre labels
* Divinity Records: Short-lived (1961–1963) gospel subsidiary.
* Mel-o-dy Records: Established in 1962 as a secondary R&B/soul music subsidiary, Mel-o-dy later focused on white
country musicartists. Notable Mel-o-dy artists include Dorsey Burnette. The label was dissolved in 1965.
* Workshop Jazz Records: Motown's
jazzsubsidiary, active from 1962 to 1964. Notable Workshop Jazz artists included the George Bohannon Trio and Four Tops(whose recordings for the label went unissued for 30 years).
* Rare Earth Records: Established in 1969 after the signing of Rare Earth (after whom the label was named), Rare Earth Records was a subsidiary focusing on
rock musicby white artists. Notable acts included Rare Earth, R. Dean Taylor, The Pretty Things, Stoney & Meatloafand Shaun Murphy (singer). The label also was the subsidiary to house the first white band signed to Motown: The Rustix. The label was dissolved in 1976, and its acts moved to the Prodigal subsidiary.
* Weed Records: A very short-lived subsidiary. Only one release, Chris Clark's 1969 "CC Rides Again" album, was issued. This release featured the tongue-in-cheek tagline, "Your Favorite Artists Are On Weed." The name "Weed Records" is now owned by the Tokyo-New York based "Weed Records".
* Black Forum Records: A
Spoken wordsubsidiary which focused mainly on albums featuring progressive political and pro-civil rights speeches/poetry. Black forum issued recordings by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stokely Carmichael, Elaine Brown, and others from 1970 until 1973.
* Natural Resources Records: This label was active from 1972 to 1973 and in 1976 as a minor subsidiary for white artists and instrumental bands. Served as a label for Motown, Tamla, and Gordy reissues and Motown compilation albums in 1978 and 1979.
* Prodigal Records: Purchased by Motown in 1974, Motown used Prodigal Records as a second rock music subsidiary; a sister label to Rare Earth Records. The Rare Earth band moved over to the label following the Rare Earth label's demise. Prodigal was dissolved in 1978.
* Hitsville Records: Founded as "Melodyland Records" in 1974, the name was changed to Hitsville in 1976. Like Mel-o-dy before it, Hitsville focused on country music. Notable artists included
Pat Booneand T.G. Sheppard. The label was dissolved in 1977.
* Morocco Records: Meaning "Motown Rock Company," As the name suggests, Morocco was a rock music subsidiary. Active from 1983 to 1984, it was a short-lived attempt to revive the Rare Earth Records concept. Only seven albums were released on the label. It's two most promising acts,
Duke Jupiterand the black New Wave trio Tiggi Clay (via their lead singer, Fizzy Qwick) eventually moved to the parent label.
* Onedirection Records: A record label owned by
Stevie Wonder, it had one 12-inch dance release, the 15-minute rap track "The Crown" by Gary Byrd and the G.B. Experience.
* Motown Latino Records: Short-lived (1982) subsidiary for
Spanish language Latin American music.
* Mo Jazz Records: Another jazz label created in the 1990s. Notable artists included
Norman Brown, Foley, and J. Spencer.
* Mad Sounds Recordings: Short lived hip hop/rap subsidiary label, released 5 albums in the mid 1990s. [ [http://www.discogs.com/label/Mad+Sounds+Recordings Mad Sounds Recordings ] ]
Independent labels distributed by Motown
* Chisa Records: Motown released output for Chisa, a label owned by Hugh Masekela, from 1969 to 1972 (prior to that, the label was distributed by Vault Records).
* Ecology Records : A very short-lived label owned by
Sammy Davis, Jr.and distributed by Motown. Only release: single "In My Own Lifetime"/"I'll Begin Again", by Davis in 1971.
CTI Records: Motown distributed output for CTI Records, a jazz label owned by Creed Taylor, from 1974 to 1975. CTI subsidiaries distributed by Motown included Kudu Records, Three Brothers Records and Salvation Records.
* Gull Records: A UK-based label still in operation, Motown released Gull's output in the US in 1975. Gull had
Judas Prieston its roster in 1975, but their LP " Sad Wings of Destiny", intended for release by Motown in the US, was issued after the Motown/Gull Deal had fallen through.
Biv 10 Records: A hip-hop/R&B label that was founded by Bell Biv Devoe/ New Editionmember Michael Bivins. The label operated throughout most of the 1990s. Its roster included Another Bad Creation, Boyz II Men, and 702.
de Passe Entertainment
List of Motown No. 1 singles in the United States
List of Motown Records artists
List of record labels
Music of Detroit, Michigan
*Edwards, David and Callahan, Mike. (March 15, 1998) [http://www.iconnect.net/home/bsnpubs/motownstory.html "The Motown Story & Album Discography"] . "Both Sides Now Publications."
* [http://www.motown.com Official Motown Records website]
* [http://classic.motown.com Official Classic Motown website]
* [http://www.motownmuseum.com/ Motown Historical Museum] - Open to the public, located in the former "Hitsville USA" building in Detroit
* [http://www.seabear.se/detroit1.htm Complete discography of pre-1986 Motown singles]
* [http://www.bsnpubs.com/motown/motownstory.html Complete discography of pre-1986 Motown albums]
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