Let's start downtown at the Motown Museum. If you come to Detroit, if "My Girl" makes you smile and The Supremes ruled when you spun a few discs, you need to know more.
Motown, formed by Detroit native Berry Gordy, Jr., was the most successful black-owned record company and one of the most successful black-owned corporations in US history. Motown's output was fundamental to the sound of the 1960s.
Gordy ran a jazz record shop in the mid-1950s, but his potential customers preferred rhythm & blues. So he left the retail record business, took a day job in a Ford factory, and began writing songs; one of his first big hits was "Reet Petite" for Jackie Wilson. In 1957 Gordy met Smokey Robinson, changed the name of Robinson's vocal group from Matadors to Miracles, and leased their records. Gordy, who had only wanted to be a successful songwriter, realized that the true way to reap the rewards meant starting a record company and publishing the music himself, so he formed Motown Record Corporation (short for Motortown). Artists were paid salaries until they had hits, but were tied to the company and subject to Gordy's whims. Motown became a family operation tightly controlled by Gordy, and soon dominated the decade's black pop, seriously challenged only by the Southern sound of Stax in Memphis and the Fame Studio in Muscle Shoals. None of the Motown hits were ever certified gold because he would not allow the RIAA (Record Industry Association of America) to see his books.
Motown stars included Mary Wells, the Supremes, the Jackson Five, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Temptations, the Marvellettes, the Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Junior Walker, and many more. Acts were taught deportment and stage movements, and touring Motown shows were also tightly chaperoned. But the proof of Gordy's genius in the studio, and deciding who should do what, was in the hits: at least 110 singles made the Billboard pop top ten from 1961 through 1971, and are still selling today in countless compilations and anthologies. The hits of the Motown decade are perhaps the ultimate party music, and more than that, thanks to Robinson's songwriting. In 1973 Motown grossed $40 million and employed 135 people, but by then it had moved to California. When Motown left Motortown it became just another record company. (Read more about Motown's legacy of stars.).
Motown Historical Museum
2648 West Grand Blvd. 313/875-2264
On the Web, visit Motownmuseum.com