Motown Records allowed many Black artists and musicians make their mark on music history. Without Motown Records, the world may have missed tons of hit songs and outstanding artists and acts. Motown Records made their mark on the world by creating, producing, and showcasing Black music and legendary artists, while uplifting up the Black community as a whole.
The History of Motown Records
On June 7, 1958, Berry Gordy Jr. founded Tamala Records. Originally, he wanted to name his record company Tammy Records, which would pay tribute to a popularized hit song by Debbie Reynolds sung in the 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor, but then he found that the name was already in use, so he decided on Tamala instead.
Later on, Gordy changed Tamala Records to Motown Records to pay homage to Detroit, Michigan, the city in which he started his record company. Due to Henry Ford and Ford car productions, Detroit was nicknamed “the Motor City,” do Motown is a portmanteau of “motor” and “town.”
In 1957, Gordy met Smokey Robinson; at the time, he was just a local seventeen-year-old singer who was a part of a vocal harmony group called the Matadors. Robinson caught Gordy’s eye because of the doo-wop style he sang. Gordy was interested in the doo-wop style that Robinson sang. In 1958, Gordy successfully signed his first artists, the Matadors, recorded their song “Get a Job,” and released it as a single through a lease under End Records (based in New York), a larger company outside of Detroit. In the following year, 1959, the Matadors changed their name to the Miracles, and Gordy bought a two-family flat on Detroit’s Grand Boulevard to be Motown’s headquarters, which was later nicknamed “Hitsville U.S.A” for its massive popularity.
Motown went on to be so popular that it created a new sub-genre combining both pop and R&B — titled the Motown Sound. The sound itself was of soul and R&B style, but it had the same appeal as mainstream pop music. Motown Records Corporations went on to become the most successful soul music label, with a $61 million network. During the 1960s alone, the record company achieved 79 records in the top ten slots of the Billboard Hot 100.
Motown signed and created a lot of popular and influential artists. Many of these artists went on to become household names, and entertained people of all races, genders, incomes, and generations. Some of these well-known names include Boys II Men, Blinky, the Commodores, Diana Ross, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Isley Brothers, the Jackson 5, Lionel Richie, Michael Jackson, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles, the Marvelettes, Rick James, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Spinners, the Supremes, Tammi Terrell, Teena Marie, and the Temptations.
The Four Tops
The original members, Levi Stubbs, Adul “Duke” Fakir, Renaldo “Obie” Benson, and Lawrence Payton, all met in a Detroit high school, and called themselves the “Four Aims,” but later changed it to the Four Tops to not be confused with the Ames Brothers. The Four Tops remained together from their start in 1953 to 1997 without changing personnel.
Over the first seven years, they toured frequently but were unsuccessful with multiple record companies, including Chess, Red Top, Riverside Records, and Columbia Records. Their popular success only really started taking off when they joined Motown Records in 1963. There their songs started charting, including “Ask the Lonely” (1965) and “Without the One You Love (Life’s Not Worth While)” (1964). And in June of 1965, they had their first number-one hit song, titled “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).”
The Temptations were an African American vocal group from Detroit, Michigan, who was signed the Motown Records and released countless hit singles and albums through Motown during the 1960s and 1970s.
By October 1968, the Temptations had huge success and pioneered psychedelic soul music and was instrumental in the evolution of R&B and soul music. The band was not known for their vocals and distinct harmonies, but also their choreography and dress style. The group sold tens of millions of albums and were one of the most successful groups in popular music and soul music history.
Originally, the Temptations were named “the Elgins” and formed in 1960; they featured five male vocalists and dancers: Otis Williams, Elbridge “Al” Bryant, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, and Paul Williams. Unlike the previously stated Four Tops, the Temptations had a series of personnel changes through its popularity, such as David Ruffin replacing Al Bryant in 1964. Ruffin went on to become the lead vocalist on a number of big hits such as “My Girl” (1964), “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” (1966), “I wish It Would Rain” (1967).
Then in 1968, Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards. And in 1971, Kendricks and Paul Williams departed from the group, and men continued to cycle through singers such as Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, and Ali-Ollie Woodson (was on the late hit in 1984 “Treat Her Like a Lady.”
To this day, Motown continues to sign artists and produce hit songs that climb the charts and break records. Keeping to their original genre of music, Rythm and Blues, Motown Records still produces songs and signs artists of that genre. Some artists include Brandy, Erykah Badu, Layton Greene, Kem, Tiana Major9, Vince Staples, Ne-Yo, and Leon Thomas III. Along with R&B, they have also modernized to include music and artists of the pop and hip-hop genres; some popular names signed under those genres are Diddy, Lil Baby, Lil Yatchy, the Migos (together and individually), Never Broke Again, Smino , and the City Girls.
Motown Records gave a voice to countless Black artists. The music and sound were influential within the Black community, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. Motown Records continue to put out hits and uplift black artists. They first made their mark on the world in the 1960s, and continue to do so until this very day.