The Universal Appeal of the Motown Sound

Amaia Calhoun

Motown, more than any other record label in history was able to create a sound that appealed to all of America and beyond.  Prior to the founding of Motown, African American artists had limited exposure and acceptance by white audiences.  Berry Gordy’s Motown was able to change that by taking unknown local street artist and transforming them into national and sometimes international stars.  Motown was able to accomplish this by controlling the sound and image of its artist.  Motown took the genres of African American music of gospel, blues, jazz, rock and roll and created a new sort of sound that would have mass cross appeal.  This new sound accompanied by universal feel good lyrics and themes of love created some of the world’s most recognizable songs. 

The artists worked with different songwriters and producers to craft an individual sound, but that sound would be played by a group of local session musicians who had strong backgrounds in all African American music genres. These session musicians served as the Motown house band known as The Funk Brothers.  This created increased musical collaboration and artistry between, producer, artist and musician which patented the Motown sound. 

In addition, Motown was able to create mass appeal by packaging images of African American artist that would be acceptable to white audiences.  Every detail of a Motown artist was crafted from costumes to choreography.  Artist received classes in etiquette and speech so they would know how to professionally conduct themselves whether on stage or off.  Consequently, black and white audiences were drawn to the music and those who performed it.

These sounds were revolutionary for the time in the sense that there was nothing like it out there previously. Additionally, each artist had their own unique sound. Motown showed the best of black America.

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