- Berry Gordy and Motown Records - History of the influential record company and its founder. Includes links to various performers for the label.
- Chatbusters Motown Magazine - Magazine dedicated to classic Motown music. Browse news, reviews, and interviews.
- Motown Alumni Association - Made up of dedicated volunteers in the pursuit of developing a social fraternity/sorority of former and present Motown employees, alumni, musicians, producers, arrangers and personnel.
- Motown and Detroit's Cultural Politics - Review of a study by Suzanne E. Smith
- The Motown Historical Museum - A photo essay of the famous Motor City record company.
- Motown N' Soul - About the legends of soul, rhythm and blues and doo wop music from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Includes biographies and photos.
- Motown Webring - Links to Motown sites.
- Rob's Motown MIDIs - MIDI files and photographs of the great Motown artists including Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Four Tops and others.
- A Tribute to Motown - Fan site for all Motown artists includes a message board, guestbook, photo gallery, biographies, discographies, and lyrics.
- Glorious Noise: That Burning, Yearning Feeling - Essay by Kenan Hebert about the original Motown singers and their backup band in relation to the recent documentary, Standing in the Shadows. (December 5, 2002)
- Forevermore Music and Records - Specializing in beach music, R&B, soul, and smooth jazz. News, artist schedules, and links. Ordering via email.
- Funk Is Here Records - Offers used rare funk and jazz funk LPs, 45s and CDs.
- Goldmine Soul Supply - 60's and 70's, Northern, and modern soul CDs, vinyl, video, and books.
- Judy's House of Oldies - Specializing in beach music, oldies, Carolina dance music and Shag.
Motown Records, Inc., also known as Tamla-Motown outside of the United States, is a record label originally based out of Detroit, Michigan ("Motor City"), where it achieved widespread international success. Motown played an important role in the integration of popular music as the first record label owned by an African-American and primarily featuring African-American artists to regularly achieve crossover success and have a widespread, lasting effect on the music industry.
Incorporated on January 12, 1959 by Berry Gordy, Jr. as Tamla Records, Motown has, over the course of its history, owned or distributed releases from more than 45 subsidiaries in varying genres, although it is most famous for its releases in the musical genres of R&B, pop, and soul music. Motown left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972, and remained an independent company until 1988, when Gordy sold the company to MCA. Now headquartered in New York City, Motown Records is today a subsidiary of the Universal Motown Records Group, itself a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.
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 music with distinctive characteristics, including the use of tambourine along with drums, bass instrumentation, a distinctive melodical and chord structure, and a call and response singing style originating in gospel music.
Hitsville USA, as seen in The Temptations (1998). (This is the movie set in Pittsburgh and NOT Hitsville!) The look of the building has been preserved from the classic Motown era, and the building now houses the Motown Museum.Berry Gordy, Jr. got his start as a songwriter for local Detroit acts such as Jackie Wilson and the Matadors. In 1959, he started his own record label, Tamla Records; his first signed act was The Matadors, who changed their name to The Miracles. Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson became the vice president of the company, and many of Gordy's family members, including his sister Gwen and his father Berry Sr., had instrumental roles in the company.
Also in 1959, Gordy purchased the property that would become Motown'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 neighboring houses with administrative offices, mixing, mastering and rehearsal studios.
Among Motown's early artists were Mabel John, Mary Wells, and Barrett Strong. The label's 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. A year later, The Marvelettes scored the label'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 and Holland-Dozier-Holland, was a major force in the music industry.
In the 1960s (from 1961 to 1971), Motown had 110 Top 10 hits and artists such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Jackson 5, and Gladys Knight & the Pips were all signed to Motown Records. By the late 1960s the label was billing itself as "The Sound of Young America", with its acts enjoying widespread popularity among black and white audiences alike.
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. Even so, Motown still boasted a roster of successful artists during the 1970s and 1980s, including Lionel Richie and The Commodores, Rick James, Teena Marie and DeBarge. Motown relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972 and attempted to branch out into the motion picture industry, turning out films such as Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany, The Wiz, Thank God It's Friday and The Last Dragon.
Berry Gordy sold his ownership in Motown to MCA and Boston Ventures in June 1988 for $61 million. Today a subsidiary of Universal Music, Motown is still active as a record label, and has been home to artists such as Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Erykah Badu, Johnny Gill (ex-New Edition) and India.Arie. Stevie Wonder and The Temptations are still signed to Motown to this day, making them the only acts from the "classic years" still on the label.
A posed photograph from Motown's landmark 1965 tour of the United Kingdom. Third from left is Florence Ballard of The Supremes; to her right are her bandmates Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Miracles member Bobby Rogers, Martha Reeves of Martha & the Vandellas, Ronnie White of The Miracles, Motown chief Berry Gordy, Jr., Vandellas Rosalind Ashford and Gloria Willaimson, and, holding up the sign directly above the "UK", Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson.
Behind the scenes
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 told 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.
Most of these same artists often went on tour together each year in a package tour called the "Motortown Revue", which was popular first on the "chitlin circuit", and later around the world. The tours gave the younger artists a chance to hone their performance skills, and also to observe the more experienced artists.
Motown's music was crafted with the same eye towards pop appeal. Berry Gordy used weekly quality control meetings 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. Many of Motown's most well known songs, such as all of the early hits for The Supremes, were written by the songwriting trio Holland-Dozier-Holland. Other important producers and songwriters at Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. recording studio and headquarters included Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong, Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson, Frank Wilson, Motown artists Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and 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 Funk Brothers
For more details on this topic, see The Funk Brothers.
In addition to the songwriting prowess of the above individuals, 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 Johnny Griffiths and Joe Hunter on piano, Joe Messina, Robert White, and Eddie Willis on guitar, Eddie "Bongo" Brown and Jack Ashford on percussion, Uriel Jones and Richard "Pistol" Allen on drums, drummer Benny Benjamin, keyboardist Earl Van Dyke, and bassist James Jamerson. The band's career and work is chronicled in the 2002 documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
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