Motown: The Music Company that Gave Us the Classics

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A collage of various Mowtown artists

Susan Gutierrez, Staff Writer

Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Diana Ross, and the Jackson 5: some of the most iconic singers and groups of all time, but one thing they all share in common is that they all had their humble beginnings in the record label, Motown– a record company that found worldwide success with both black and white audiences, changing music as we know it today.

With dreams of running his own record label and a loan of $800 from his family, Berry Gordy founded Tamla Record on January 12, 1959, and later changed it to “Motown”. He went on and placed a deposit in a small two-story house in a run-down area of Detroit, Michigan, U.S. Gordy converted the garages into a recording studio and his kitchen to a control room in hopes of trying to make it as an independent songwriter and record producer. However, he made very little money, staying on the fringes of the popular music business.

He found artists such as William Robinson, who later became known as “Smokey” Robinson and the Miracles, the Supremes, the Temptations, Mary Wells, Stevie Wonder, and many more. With the rise of popularity of these artists, Motown would experience quick success in crossing over to White audiences, breaking down barriers with their music.

The entirety of the United States would later realize that Motown became the company that changed music in America forever. Motown specialized in the soul, rhythm-and-blues, gospel, and pop music that came to be known as “The Motown Sound” thanks in part to songwriting teams like Sylvia Moy, Norman Whitfield, Mickey Stevenson, Ivy Joe Hunter, and Gordy himself in which they all wrote and produced hit songs. Their goal was to specifically mix Motown’s music to make it sound pleasant on car radios. They were characterized by a thumping backbeat that made dancing easy for everyone.

In 1972 the company officially moved its headquarters to Los Angeles and in June 1988, Berry Gordy sold his stake in Motown Records for $61 million to Music Corporation of America. Making Motown part of the Universal Music Group, Gordy found it difficult to prosper as the music industry increasingly became dominated by multinational conglomerates.

 Motown today is built upon a new roster of singers who had their humble beginnings in small music-making platforms, now becoming one of the most recognizable artists, though, with a new wave of artists, Motown still remains to be one of the most influential record labels, defining a new generation of music while still having the sound of young America to this day.