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The History Of Motown Records

Updated on August 05, 2010
The History Of Motown Records
The History Of Motown Records

Do you like Good Music?

Do you like good music?  Without a doubt, some of the best music that has ever been produced came out of a small little recording studio in Detroit, Michigan.  What started as a small loan to a barely known songwriter became known as Motown Records that produced some of the greatest talent in music history.

Berry Gordy: The Founder Of Motown Records
Berry Gordy: The Founder Of Motown Records
Smokey Robinson Was One Of The First Artists To Sign With Berry Gordy's New Label
Smokey Robinson Was One Of The First Artists To Sign With Berry Gordy's New Label

Berry Gordy and Amala Records

Berry Gordy was a local songwriter in Detroit who wrote songs for Jackie Wilson. In fact, Gordy was the author of Wilson’s Lonely Teardrops that was a huge commercial success. However, Gordy did not receive much of the credit or money from Lonely Teardrops and decided that the money was in producing and distributing music.

In 1959, Gordy’s sisters started a small record label. They asked Gordy to be the label’s President. However, Gordy had plans of his own. In that same year, Gordy started Tamla Records with an $800 loan from his family. Tamla’s first signed act was The Matadors, which eventually became the Miracles. The Miracles lead singer was Smokey Robinson.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles became an instant success. Gordy then merged the Tamla record label with his new label, Motown Records under the corporate umbrella of Motown Record Corporation. records to Motown Records, the nickname of his native Detroit. Motown Records incorporate Tamla’s successful acts including, Barrett Strong, Mable John and Mary Wells. Later, Motown had its first #1 hit with the Marvelettes “Please, Mr. Postman.”

Hitsville, USA
Hitsville, USA

Hitsville, USA

During the 1960s, Motown Records produced 110 top ten hits.  Performers under the Motown label including Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, the Four Tops and the Jackson 5.  Motown also later signed The Temptations under Gordy Records.  In all, five different labels made up Motown Records.  The amazing part is all were produced at the little recording studio located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan, also known as Hitsville, USA.

Motown Also Produced Movies Including The Wiz
Motown Also Produced Movies Including The Wiz

The Move To Los Angeles

In 1967, after a few acts left Motown over royalty disputes, Motown Productions was created to produce television shows featuring Motown artists.   Shows included Dianna Ross and the Supremes and the Jackson 5 and were very successful productions spanning all racial and generation lines.

By 1969, the Motown operations had been gradually moving towards Los Angeles.  In 1972, Motown moved all of its operations to California in an effort to build on its early television success and begin to make motion pictures featuring Motown artists.  In all, Motown produced many films including the highly successful movie “The Wiz” in 1978. 

Motown Turned 50 In 2009
Motown Turned 50 In 2009

Motown – 1980 through today

Throughout the years Motown lost some of its biggest acts including Gladys Knight. Yet, Motown always found new acts to take their place. During the 1970s and 1980s Motown produced records by Lionel Richie and the Commodores. However, by the mid 1980s, Motown was losing money and Berry Gordy was forced to sell his ownership in Motown Music Corporation and Motown Productions. Motown Productions became de Passe Entertainment. But Motown kept producing successful music acts through the 1990s including Boys II Men and Johnny Gill.

By the end of the 1990s, Motown had such stars as Brian McKnight and Erykah releasing records on one of its labels. However, in 1998 Motown became part of Universal Music Group which reunited Motown with many of its original producers and early labels. Today, Motown as it still exists still produces albums. Many of the great artists that got their start in the Hitsville Studio left Motown but many have returned. Stevie Wonder is the only artist from the early period to stay with Motown his entire career.

Motown Records celebrated its 50th Anniversary in January of 2009. As part of the celebration, A Complete Box set of Motown’s #1 hits was released. But nothing beats the music Motown produced in the early 1960s that introduced the world to amazing talents including Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson.

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    • Uninvited Writer profile image

      Susan Keeping 7 years ago from Kitchener, Ontario

      Great hub! I love the Motown music of the 60s. The Four Tops and the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson. Great stuff. Thanks for the memories :)

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      They are all great, I agree.

      Thanks for reading

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      Fascinating Hub! I recorded my 4th album in Hitsville Studios in 1985 (It had changed its name to SoundSuite). So, I worked in that hallowed atmosphere.

      James Jamerson played bass on most of the Motown hit songs—no matter who was the artist. When you hear those songs listen for those fantastic bass lines. The songs are built around them and Jamerson created them.

      I enjoyed your article. Great stuff.

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Wow, I had no idea that you were an accomplished musician as well. Where do I buy the record?

      Thanks for the comment.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      My music was on Amazon as recently as a few years ago but no more. Not enough sales. Our last album was released in 1991. I have created crude music videos out of 16 of them and posted them here on Hub Pages spread over 5 Hubs: White Summer, White Summer II, III, My first album, and White Summer the Red Album.

      These are short stories about the band and links to the YouTube videos I made. Thanks for asking. :)

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Wow, I will check those out. I am enough time keeping up with all the new hubs that I haven't been able to read the oldies yet. Very cool.

      I managed a nightclub in Santa Barbara during college. It was all live bands. Some good, some great, and many not so good.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      is that right!? Club manager. I've met a few of those in my day. Some good, some great, and many not so good. :D

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Most not so good in my experience. Treated bands like dirt. I always gave them a place to play and a few free drinks, no matter who they were. And a state of the art sound system and good advertising.

    • James A Watkins profile image

      James A Watkins 7 years ago from Chicago

      You were the dream for a band. All the accouterments you mentioned are the essentials. Thank you for being good to bands. That is something I really appreciate.

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Hey, I loved the bands, mostly because I would have loved to be a rockstar but I can't sing, dance play and instrument or am very good looking. But I ran a Club and became friends with them and tried to treat them right. We had many national shows and I always tried to put a local act on the bill to give them some exposure. They appreciated that.

    • elisabethkcmo profile image

      elisabethkcmo 7 years ago from Just East of Oz

      Thanks for the intereting hub, great info about an important part of our American history!

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for reading

    • profile image

      Erick Smart 7 years ago

      At one time Motown was one of the biggest ever. It is a shame that they are not more progressive now and get bigger acts than they do.

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Fair point.

      Thanks for reading

    • Wyldflow3r profile image

      Wyldflow3r 7 years ago

      I'm lovin it!!!!Great hub!!! 2 thumbs up!!

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thank you very much

    • profile image

      Salsa Dancing 7 years ago

      Thanks for the info on motown, these days we have really big corporations producing bad music because they know with enough marketing they can sell anything. Me though, I will ofrever be a motown fan

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Me too, not much better than the Motown music from the 60s.

    • profile image

      Mr Mojo 7 years ago

      What about the Funk Brothers? The best studio musicians to ever back up any artist on Motown

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 7 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Agreed,

      Perhaps an article on them alone would be appropriate.

      Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Mr Douche Bag 6 years ago

      Motown seemed pretty cool. Too bad Michael Jackson died, he was a pretty cool bitch

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for the comment

    • profile image

      Doc Gibbs 6 years ago

      Barrett Strong, Mable John and Mary Well. Later, Motown had its first #1 hit with the Marvelettes “Please, Mr. Postman"

      CORRECTION: Her name is Mary WELLS...with an "s".

    • profile image

      Doc Gibbs 6 years ago

      By the end of the 1990s, Motown had such stars as Brian McKnight and Erykah releasing records on one of its labels. However, in 1998 Motown became part of Universal Music Group which reunited Motown with many of its original producers and early labels. Today, Motown as it still exists still producers albums.

      Is that ERYKAH BADU? No last name given.

      And another correction (grammar):Today, Motown as it still exists still producers albums.

      You mean "produCES", right?

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks Doc

    • profile image

      matt 6 years ago

      i love ur websites thank u for the informaton

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks for reading Matt

    • profile image

      JackT 6 years ago

      Wow great info. Helped a lot with a project I was doing gotta give it to those guys they were the best. Great Job!!!!!

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Glad I can help, and I agree, there is no better music. Thanks for reading.

    • profile image

      Voice Over Studio 6 years ago

      This site is really interesting. You bring up some great points about your article. Thanks for the great information about this topic.. It is my first time here in this site so good job…

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 6 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Thanks Voice Over

    • profile image

      John 5 years ago

      Lots of musicians got there start in motown. Like when Jimi Hendrix played for Little Richard

    • bgpappa profile image
      Author

      bgpappa 5 years ago from Sacramento, California

      Yep, Motown found some of the best talent.

      Thanks for reading

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