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Underrated Motown Artists

Updated on July 1, 2012

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 Spinnners

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.

Brian McKnight

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.


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    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Ron,

      I hope you find it. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • RonElFran profile image

      Ronald E Franklin 

      5 years ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

      I think I have a Spinners album somewhere in my LP collection. After reading your hub, I'll make a point of listening to it - if I can find it!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Rasta1,

      You definitely have to give the Spinners credit for lasting this long. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • rasta1 profile image

      Marvin Parke 

      5 years ago from Jamaica

      You really like R&B and soul music. It is nice to know that the spinners are still touring. I grew up on these types of music too.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Prospectboy,

      The Spinners to me were like #3 or #4 in a running list of male R&B vocal groups of that time- following The Temptations and The Four Tops. In a way, it's like boy bands now- if you don't strike to be #1 or #2, you get lost in the shuffle.

      I agree that Brian McKnight deserved more success for someone as talented as he was. And I think Shanice did suffer at the hands of her management.

      Thanks for coming by and sharing your thoughts!

    • prospectboy profile image

      Bradrick H. 

      5 years ago from Texas

      I've heard of The Spinners before, but I've never listened to any of their music. I'm going to have to do that. As for both Brian McKnight and Shanice, I'm very familiar with them both -especially McKnight. I actually have a few Brian McKnight albums. He's one of my favorites, but like you mentioned, he never received the acclaim that he deserved. I didn't even know that he signed with Motown. As for Shanice, she was super super talented. Her favorite song of mines is "It's For You" from the 'Meteor Man' soundtrack. I think her career was poorly managed, but she was a beautiful woman, and had a great voice. Very nice hub. Voted up, and shared for sure.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hi Bat115,

      I haven't seen the Spinners in concert, I'm glad to hear they still put out a good show. I agree about Shanice, her voice is too great to deny. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • bat115 profile image


      5 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      I just saw The Spinners in concert. Sure, they are not all the original members but they put on a great show!

      Shanice is another one that should have gone on to bigger better things.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks so much midget38!

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 

      5 years ago from Singapore

      I love your smile! It says it all. I loved Shanice....and Brian McKnight's One. You are right, these artistes are underrated. And they have such great voices!!! Thanks for giving them a tribute, Alecia.Votes away, and shared.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      5 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks billybuc! Yeah the Spinners were a great group. Phil Specter, Wall of Sound was separate. I don't think he worked with any Motown artists. Motown was known as the Sound of Young America.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      Oh I loved the Spinners....isn't Motown where the "Wall of Sound" originated? Phil Specter? Or am I completely off base?

      Anyway, loved this hub; great job of bringing back memories.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks WD Curry 111! I think you're right the Spinners is beach music for shaggers. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      6 years ago from Space Coast

      This is great! I am getting out the old Spinners album, now. I lived in Myrtle Beach S.C. for a few years. They call Motown "beach music" there, because that is what everyone still dances the shag to when they go to the beach on vacation. I have seen the Spinners several times, and the configuration varies, but the act is always true to form and top drawer.

      Brian McKnight made it big as an influence.

      It isn't over for Shanice!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hey Weestro! I know who would have thought Motown had talented custodians. And I wish Bryan McKnight was bigger as well. Thanks for coming by!

    • weestro profile image

      Pete Fanning 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Great Hub Alecia, didn't know about The Spinners being paid as custodians! Great points about Bryan Mcknight, he wasn't flashy and didn't need gimmicks, it's a shame he wasn't more appreciated. Voted up and awesome!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      I'm so glad you enjoyed the hub cclitgirl! It is amazing how many artists people haven't heard but yet they did so much in their careers. Thanks as always and I hope you have a great 4th of July!

    • cclitgirl profile image

      Cynthia Calhoun 

      6 years ago from Western NC

      I love it when you write these hubs! I learn so much about people I didn't know about, yet their music is so touching and moving. I hadn't heard of the Spinners and Shanice, but thanks to you, I know a little more about some awesome people. Thanks for sharing this!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Hey Cogerson! I've missed your hubs and I'm very glad you're back. I understand about missing eras of music- some things I forgot happened and even though I lived through it sometimes it does take awhile to bring my memory back. Thanks for coming by and commenting!

    • Cogerson profile image


      6 years ago from Virginia

      Nice hub and one that offers lots of great somebody I am not familiar with....but I liked the video you attached...I Love Your Smile. Somehow I missed that 1990s It looks like I have lots of hubs to read of yours....I took about a three month break from HubPages.....but I am back now. Voted up and useful.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks teaches12345!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      6 years ago

      I have heard Brian McKnight's voice and it is remarkable. Always heard about the Spinners but never heard them sing before. Great hub on these artists.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Docmo! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

    • Docmo profile image

      Mohan Kumar 

      6 years ago from UK

      Defo didn't know 2/3 . Have heard of Shanice and a couple of her songs. Nice of you Alecia to give these lesser known artists some airing. Enjoyed the trip. More please!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks alocsin! I'm sorry about the technical difficulties but I'm glad you enjoyed the hub!

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Jools! I remember Kiki Dee but I didn't know she was on Motown. I thought she was more affiliated with Elton John but that's interesting.

    • Alecia Murphy profile imageAUTHOR

      Alecia Murphy 

      6 years ago from Wilmington, North Carolina

      Thanks Sunshine! I agree the Spinners got lost in the shuffle as well.

      Brian McKnight, if I remember right used to live in Florida but yeah his voice is awesome!

    • alocsin profile image


      6 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I appreciate the heads-up on these artists, whom I've never heard of. But every time I click on the videos, it says "Video player too small" and doesn't play. Voting this Up and Interesting anyway.

    • Jools99 profile image


      6 years ago from North-East UK

      'I Love Your Smile' still sounds great even when I hear it on the radio today. It was incredibly successful in the UK so still gets radio play.

      The Spinners are great too. We had a British artiste called Kiki Dee who was a Motown artiste - she sang 'Don't Go Breaking My Heart' with Elton John and made one Motown album but it was not successful.

      Voted up etc.

    • Sunshine625 profile image

      Linda Bilyeu 

      6 years ago from Orlando, FL

      You had me at The Spinners which I agree didn't get the attention they deserved. I never heard of Shanice, but I remember the commercials. Oh my Brian McKnight...his voice could melt a candle without the wick burning (how's that analogy for you?) I still listen to Brian McKnight and always will.

      Excellent Motown hub Alecia. Thank you for creating this tribute.


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