Encyclopedia Of Detroit

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Motown Records

With an $800 loan from his family, Berry Gordy, Jr. founded Tamla Records on January 12, 1959, adding the Motown label later that year. Gordy’s first successful act was signed as The Matadors, but their name was quickly changed to The Miracles. Also in 1959, Gordy purchased the property on Detroit’s Grand Boulevard that would eventually become known as “Hitsville U.S.A.” – Motown’s headquarters. A photography studio near the back of one of the buildings on the property was converted to a recording studio, while administrative offices were set up in other buildings. In 1960, Gordy officially incorporated Motown Records and Tamla under the Motown Record Corporation name.

The music label enjoyed quick success with its release of “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong, its first hit. “Shop Around” by The Miracles, released in 1960, was Motown’s first record that sold more than one million copies. From 1961 to 1971, Motown Record Corporation produced 110 top ten hits, from artists that included Stevie WonderThe Supremes, The Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, and The Four TopsMartha Reeves and the Vandellas and The Temptations were signed by a third label, which Gordy named after himself.

The company specialized in a type of soul music that came to be known as “The Motown Sound” thanks in part to song writing teams like Holland, Dozier and Holland, and a band of studio musicians dubbed The Funk Brothers with their signature backbeat. The music had enormous success in “crossing over” to White audiences and is credited by Motown star and one-time vice president Smokey Robinson with “breaking down barriers with music.” Many Motown acts were popular with both Black and White audiences, and found worldwide success. 

Motown Records developed an “Artist Personal Development Department “in 1964 that helped talented but inexperienced young singers develop presentation styles that would endear them to audiences. Motown artists, many under the tutelage of Maxine Powell, learned to walk, talk, think and act like royalty.

Motown had established offices in both Los Angeles and New York during the 1960s and in 1972 the company officially moved its headquarters to Los Angeles. In June 1988, Berry Gordy, Jr. sold his stake in Motown Records for $61 million to Music Corporation of America (MCA). The label is now part of the Universal Music Group.

Hitsville U.S.A., the first home of Motown on West Grand Boulevard, is today a museum where visitors can see Studio A, the original recording studio where so many Motown hits were launched. 

 


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Motown Records business card, 1970 - 2011.009.007

“The Motown Sound” flyer featuring several Motown Records acts, 1966 – 2011.009.005

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