Motown Sound: The Rhythm and Blues

Timeline of Motown

Motown was a record label created by Berry Gordy on January 19, 1959 in Detroit, Michigan. The location was in the heart of the black community and quickly became known as the Sound of Young America.

The Motown Sound

Swing jazz styled walking, bebop inspired bass lines, tambourines, hand claps, guitar down stroke, back beat on bass drums and hand claps on all four beats.

Early Motown Sound: (Phase I)

Early Motown recordings were a combination of vocal harmony groups, uptown rhythm, and the blues. Although Motown had a diverse set of entertainers, vocal harmony groups dominated the company’s releases.

Transitional Motown: (Phase II)

Between 1963-1964 Motown sound began to transition to the experience of a young person. Songs began to sing about young life and the normal hardships of adolescence. The reworking of pop elements and the inclusion of gospel and jazz changed the sound of Motown. This transition was popular among white and black crowds and make Motown an international hit!

Popular Motown Artists/Songs

  • Diana Ross: Lead singer of the Supremes that became successful because of her pop-oriented style of singing. The Supremes were most popular among white audiences.
  • The Funk Brothers: They were known for perfecting Motown Sound by use of swing jazz styles and were more popular among Blacks than the Supremes because of their use of the bass line and the beat.
  • Marvin Gaye: “How Sweet it is to be Loved by You”
  • The Four Tops: “I Can’t Help Myself”
  • The Temptations: “Ain’t too Proud to Beg

Criticism of Motown Sound

Motown Sound was often criticized for removing some of the black aesthetic of music to gain a larger white audience. During this time period of course, there were discriminatory media policies, making it hard to find success without the inclusion of white culture.



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