Underrated Motown Artists
Motor City Memories
Motown is arguably one of the most iconic record labels of the 20th century. The "sound of Young America" has provided a timeless soundtrack for the turbulent, emotional, and raw moments of the past half century. That being said, Motown through the years has had some artists come in and hardly get their due.
Everyone knows that the music industry is a fickle and competitive realm. Not everyone is a success story. There are many stories of tragedy, abuse, and suffering due to the fact that the music industry is designed to help record labels make profits above all else.
While Motown has produced its share of icons such as Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Steve Wonder, and the Temptations there were other groups and artists with the same talent and promise who for some reason or another did not live up to their full potential.
This hub aims to focus on those artists who due to unfair deals did not get what they deserved.
The Spinners are a dynamic group that still tours today. Albeit, many of the original members are no longer participating but they still manged to keep going through all of the struggles that they faced.
I think what was bad about the Spinners coming to Motown when they did is that Berry Gordy and his staff focused their attention on the known money making male vocal groups such as The Temptations and Four Tops. In fact, he was so busy with the other two groups the Spinners were actually on the Motown payroll as custodians.
But after years of serving as road managers and driving around Motown icons like Marvin Gaye, they were finally given a chance to shine. Unfortunately, the result was the leftovers of other acts' songs.
However, it was Stevie Wonder's eternal musical brilliance that put them on the map. In 1970, he composed the now classic "It's A Shame" for the Spinners. It turned out to be their biggest success on Motown.
Yet at that point the Spinners decided to take their talents elsewhere and moved to Atlantic, a major label with a great reputation for developing quality acts. And while they never had the crossover success that other Motown based groups did, they have carved their own niche in R&B history.
While Shanice is definitely someone you may think you have never heard of, she has been around longer than you think. At the age of 8 she appeared in a now famous KFC commercial alongside jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald. And at the age of 11, she received even more national attention as one of the featured players on Kids' Incorporated.
From there she appeared on Star Search and was signed to A&M records were she released her debut album which had two minor hits. However, it was in the early 1990s where she hit her commercial peak.
"I Love Your Smile" has to be one of the bench mark songs of the 1990s. It does exactly what Shanice intended and that is make you smile. It went on to be top 10 in 22 countries. After that Shanice continued to record hits for iconic 90s shows and movies such as "Beverly Hills, 90210" and "Boomerang." But for one reason or another she never had the same smash success that she had with "I Love Your Smile."
Motown again became victim of it's own constantly change roster of executives and as a result the artists on it suffered. No longer based around a specific sound like in its heyday, artist were essentially left to fend for themselves.
She eventually went on to leave Motown in the mid 1990s and later signed to iconic 90s label, LaFace. Shanice has an astounding five octave range and also has sung back-up for Usher and Toni Braxton. in the late 1990s she also toured with 'N Sync.
In the early 2000s she took a break to marry and have two kids with comedy actor Flex Alexander and now has her own label which she has released her latest album in 2006.
If it were up to me to rewrite music history, Shanice would be as big as Mary J. Blige and Mariah Carey. She has an amazing voice and interprets songs quite well. I just think it was an issue of being one of many dynamic talents to arise and not having the proper support.
If you discount his recent antics of writing obscene songs out of boredom, Brian McKnight is truly one of the last great R&B singers of the past twenty years. His sensual falsetto and knack for romantic hooks has made him a known hit maker.
Taking a cue from his older brother, Claude's success in Take 6, he secured his own record deal at the tender age of 19 with Mercury Records subsidary, Wing. He would go on to release several hits during his ten-year stint with Mercury. Songs such as "One Last Cry" and "Anytime" where among the many hits he crafted during this time.
In 1997, he moved on to sign on with the iconic Motown label. However, he could not have picked a more inopportune time to sign. It had been over ten years since founder Berry Gordy had sold the label to multimedia corporation Universal. As we all know, that can have mixed results.
He continued to make steady hits including perhaps his most iconic song to date, "Back at One" but after a while his string of hits slowly dried up. McKnight also ran into some personal issues- including a very stressful divorce. Another potential reason was the fact that music was fully shifting from a mixed bag of R&B and Hip-Hop to mostly Hip-Hop and Pop on the airwaves.
I think McKnight's balladeer style unfortunately became passe in the 21st century. Record labels for the most part are concerned with numbers and contemporary R&B unaided by hip-hop or pop has definitely taken a hit.
He eventually moved to Warner Brothers for a few years and now is on E1 Music. McKnight also currently hosts a syndicated radio show. Even though he is no longer a mainstay on the charts, his contribution to R&B music is definitely something to be proud of.
More by this Author
My favorite artists whose voices are far behind their swagger and stage presence.
The good, bad, and the umm from various artists who've tried to fly solo.
The history of the original version of Last Christmas as well as some covers that may interest music fans!