from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Motown Record Company
Motown logo.svg
Parent company Universal Music Group
Active years since 1959
founder Berry Gordy Jr.
Seat Los Angeles , United States
Label code LC 0363
Genre (s) Soul , R&B , pop , funk , disco
The Motown Studio, Detroit, USA

Motown (registered as Motown Record Corporation in 1960 ) is an American record label founded in January 1959 by Berry Gordy Jr. in Detroit , Michigan under the name Tamla Record Company . Outside of the United States, it is sometimes known as Tamla-Motown . The company made a name for itself primarily through the production and distribution of R&B , soul and pop music, but always had artists from other genres under contract. In 1988 the company was transferred to MCA / Universalsold and is now owned by the major label Universal Music Group . The headquarters of the Motown Record Corporation has been in Los Angeles since 2014 .

"Motown" is a suitcase word made up of motor and town , an allusion to the car city of Detroit.



Berry Gordy Jr. began his career in 1957 as a songwriter for Detroit musicians such as Jackie Wilson and The Matadors. His first successful composition was Reet Petite in August 1957 for Jackie Wilson, which reached number 62 on the US pop hit parade . Influenced by his first Top 10 hit in November 1958 - Gordy was a co-author of Wilson's Lonely Teardrops - and the realization that the music industry can make money by producing and distributing under contract artists, he co-founded on January 12, 1959 founded his first music label, Tamla Records, with seed capital of 800 US dollars .

The first musicians he signed with his family's loan were the Matadors, who then renamed themselves The Miracles . The Miracles' lead singer, Smokey Robinson , became vice president of the new company, and some of Gordy's family members, including his sister Gwen and father Berry Sr., also helped make decisions. Tamla's first release in the founding year was Marv Johnson's Come to Me , which was recorded at United Sound Studio in February 1959 . The artists represented by Tamla included Mable John , Mary Wells, and Barrett Strong . The company's first hit was Barrett Strong's Money (That's What I Want) in 1959 , which peaked at # 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. The hit was the first recording in their own recording studio , which was set up in a house bought by Gordy.

Previously, Gordy had bought a single-family home in Detroit (2648 West Grand Boulevard) for $ 10,500 in August 1959 and affixed a sign that said Hitsville USA . The photo lab on the first floor was converted into a recording studio ( Studio A , called “Snakepit”), and the family moved to the second floor of the house. The sister label Motown Records , founded in 1960 - due to the association with Motor City , the nickname Detroit - was merged with Tamla Records on April 14, 1960 and renamed the parent company Motown Record Corporation . In addition to Tamla and Motown, this later also included Gordy Records and many smaller labels (VIP, Melody, Soul). Within a few years, the company bought several neighboring houses and housed offices and various studios there. In 1968 they moved to downtown Detroit; only Studio A., which was open around the clock for recordings from 1959 to 1972, was still used.

The Supremes , Florence Ballard , Mary Wilson and Diana Ross (1965), (from left to right)

Shop Around from the Miracles reached # 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart on January 16, 1961 and was Motown's first record to sell more than a million copies. Later that year, The Supremes signed with Diana Ross , eleven-year-old Little Stevie Wonder and the Temptations with the young company. In December, The Marvelettes gave the company their first number one hit on the Billboard charts, Please Mr. Postman . Motown artists, including Marvin Gaye , topped the sales lists in the 1960s and had a huge impact on the music, just as the company did on the music industry. Behind the successes were mainly songwriters and producers such as William Mickey Stevenson, Norman Whitfield and the successful trio Holland – Dozier – Holland .

Five years after the first number one hit, Gordy opened a Motown branch in Hollywood to develop his artists into television and movie stars and to release soundtracks at the same time. This step was resented by many sides, because the commercialization of the music was to be heard. The biggest international sensation was the Jackson Five , whose star Michael Jackson became the youngest number one singer in history in 1970 at the age of only eleven. No other band sold more records in the early 1970s, and they eventually became the most successful R&B act of the decade. From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits. In the late 1960s, the company applied itself with "The Sound of Young America", which knew how to inspire black and white young people equally.


The Commodores

After successful songwriters Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland left Motown during a royalty dispute litigation that began in August 1967 , the quality of the music and the frequency of number one hits declined . Still, Motown had a number of successful musicians under contract in the 1970s and 1980s, including Lionel Richie and The Commodores , Rick James , Teena Marie and DeBarge .

In 1972 the company's headquarters were relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles in order to enter the film business from there. Motown was involved in the film Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross , which was nominated for several Academy Awards. In addition, among others Mahogany , The Wiz , Thank God It's Friday and The Last Dragon , which, however, could not build on the great success.

From the mid-1980s onwards, the company made steady losses, and in June 1988 Gordy was forced to sell his life's work to MCA / Universal and Boston Ventures for $ 61 million . The labels Motown, Tamla and Gordy were merged under the name Motown.

Boyz II Men (1995)

Although Motown returned to the top of the charts in the 1990s with artists like Boyz II Men and Johnny Gill, the company failed to get out of the economic downturn. A staff carousel of managing directors, starting with Gordy's direct successor Jheryl Busby, appointed by the MCA, took over the management. According to Busby, the MCA was not paying enough attention to Motown's products and neglecting to market them. In 1991 Motown complained about the distribution agreement with the MCA and outsourced the distribution to Polygram . PolyGram bought Motown from Boston Ventures two years later. 1994 Busby was replaced by Andre Harrell (Uptown Records). Harrell only stayed on as managing director for less than two years because he was accused of weak leadership. The business was continued by Danny Goldberg, leader of PolyGrams Mercury Records group, and George Jackson.


In 1998 Motown added popular artists such as 702 , Brian McKnight and Erykah Badu to its catalog, but Diana Ross and Smokey Robinson left the label the following year. In December 1998, PolyGram was taken over by Seagram and Motown was integrated into the Universal Music Group (UMG). For a short time, UMG considered giving up the traditional label, which was in a tailspin, but decided to restructure it. Kedar Massenburg, a producer of Erykah Badu, became the new managing director and was responsible for the successful publications of Badu, McKnight, Michael McDonald and India.Arie . Sylvia Rhone, former managing director of Elektra Records, followed in 2005. Motown was merged with Universal Records in March 2004 to form the Universal Motown Records Group , an umbrella label of UMG, which oversees the publications and catalogs of Motown, Universal, Blackground, Republic Records , Cash Money, Casablanca and other labels.

The 2006 Motown catalog included: the R&B singers India.Arie, Erykah Badu, Mýa , Kem and Yummy Bingham , the actress and pop singer Lindsay Lohan , the reggae singers Damian and Stephen Marley and the rappers Trick-Trick and Nick Cannon . Stevie Wonder is the last artist from Motown's Classic era to stay with the label.

Hitsville USA

Berry Gordy (1998)

The section describes the company and success concept from Motown's so-called Classic period from 1959 to 1972.

Developing and building artists

Developing young musicians was a major part of Motown's business. The company's artists were well-groomed, well-dressed and shone with sophisticated choreographies in live performances. They were impressed that their breakthrough in the white-dominated charts would also support other African American musicians in their development. The musicians should think, speak, act and walk like nobles in order to dispel the bad image and reservations about black musicians among the white population. Since many of the young talents came from simple backgrounds and often lacked basic social skills, Motown's efforts were not only exemplary, but also created an elegant style of their own that was associated with the company for a long time.

In particular, many young Motown artists took part in the annual Motortown Revue label tour, which was very popular first on the Chitlin 'Circuit (safe venues for black artists during racial segregation) and later in many parts of the world. The tours enabled the musicians to fine-tune their performances and learn from more experienced colleagues.

Creation process of the Motown hits

Berry Gordy held weekly quality control meetings and reserved the right to veto artistic decisions to ensure that only titles with hit potential were released. Each new release had to fit in with the top 5 best-selling pop singles of the week.

Many of the most famous Motown pieces, like all the early hits of the Supremes , were written by the Holland-Dozier-Holland trio . Other key producers and copywriters from Motown's Hitsville studios were Norman Whitfield & Barrett Strong , Nickolas Ashford & Valerie Simpson , Frank Wilson, Motown singers Smokey Robinson , Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, and Gordy himself.

The many musicians and producers of Motown worked in different compositions on the production of numerous hits, nevertheless the creation process is often described as assembly line work, comparable to the Brill Building . The Hitsville studios were open 24 hours a day for musicians, some of whom were on tour for weeks, came back to Detroit to record as much new as possible, and then immediately continued to tour.

The Funk Brothers in December 2006

The Funk Brothers

See also: The Funk Brothers .

In addition to the songwriting qualities of the above, the Funk Brothers , a solid group of studio musicians, were responsible for the typical Motown sound . Among the instrumentalists were Earl Van Dyke , Johnny Griffith and Joe Hunter on piano and keyboards , Joe Messina, Robert White and Eddie Willis on guitar , Eddie Bongo Brown and Jack Ashford on vibraphone and percussions , Uriel Jones, Richard Pistol Allen and Benny Papa Zita Benjamin on drums and bassists James Jamerson and Bob Babbitt.

The documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown from 2002 describes the work and career of the hitherto largely unknown band.


Berry Gordy Jr. wrote American music history, because for the first time the success of black artists overshadowed that of their white colleagues - "The Sound of Young America" ​​conquered the continent and made Gordy a millionaire. The sound of Motown was considered a majority. In contrast to many other smaller soul labels, it was very harmonious, often downright cheesy. With one exception, the tenor saxophonist Jr. Walker, vocal soloists and ensembles were the focus of interest, the accompanying bands and instrumental musicians (see: The Funk Brothers) remained completely unknown. This recipe for success was also able to attract a large white group of buyers. This mass-compatible sound later gave its name to an entire genre , the Motown sound.

Motown sound

Ashford & Simpson (2000)

The term Motown sound has been coined by the trade press. It suggests the homogeneity of music production at the record company Tamla Motown Records, which did not exist in absolute form. Nevertheless, the recordings have some things in common, which reveal a uniform sound image in most of the recordings produced. It starts with the company's own recording studio , the “Studio A” set up in the Hitsville building (2648 West Grand Boulevard). Between 1959 and 1973, almost 24 hours a day, all recordings for the Motown group were produced here. Uniform producers were mostly the composer / author teams Holland / Dozier / Holland, Whitfield / Strong or Ashford / Simpson, who also shaped the Motown sound with their compositions and productions. Furthermore, the almost always identical studio musicians of the Funk Brothers with their special instrumentation are an important part of this sound. Motown's trademarks were the well-known saxophone breaks, contributed by Mike Terry and Thomas "Beans" Bowles (baritone saxophone), Hank Cosby (tenor saxophone) and Teddy Buckner (alto saxophone). Her saxophone-accentuated background and instrumental parts had a high recognition value . Base were also James Jamersons bass guitar and Benny Benjamin bass drum , forming a unit. Jamerson started on most of the sessions, then the drums started; “We didn't need any grades because we knew how the groove came about”.

Typical were also the heavy use of tambourines to emphasize the backbeat , highlighted, often melodic bass guitar runs, recognizable melody and chord structures as well as orchestral violin and brass sections. The instruments were often duplicated by overdubbing , often two drums were operated at the same time, at least three guitars were used at the same time. The sound concept also included pounding percussion , emphasizing the rimshot technique of the drums and sometimes shrill female background choirs in the tradition of the call-and-response vocal style. An essential element of the Motown sound was the slightly staggered sequence of vocals and backing band, which gave the songs a driving character.

Motown labels

Main labels

  • Tamla Records (1959–1988): Mainstream R&B and soul label. Well-known artists: Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
  • Motown Records (1960 to today): Mainstream R&B and soul label, later also as a hip-hop label. Well-known artists: Mary Wells, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson 5, Boyz II Men and Erykah Badu, Marvin Gaye
  • Gordy Records (1961–1988): Mainstream R&B and soul label. Originally founded as Miracle Records (motto: "If It's a Hit, It's a Miracle" ), the name was changed in 1962 to avoid confusion with the group The Miracles. The Gordy Records motto was: "It's What's in the Grooves that Counts" . Well-known artists: The Temptations, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Rick James and DeBarge.

The three labels Motown, Tamla and Gordy were merged in 1988 under the name Motown.

R&B and soul sub-labels

  • Check-Mate Records (1961–1962): R&B and soul label, formerly with Chess Records. Well-known artists: David Ruffin and The Del-Phis (who later became Martha & the Vandellas).
  • Soul Records (1964–1978): R&B and soul label whose publications were less oriented towards pop and more towards the blues. Famous Artists: Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, Gladys Knight & the Pips and Jimmy Ruffin.
  • VIP Records (1964–1974): R&B and soul label. Well-known artists: Shorty Long, The Spinners and The Elgins.
  • Mo-west Records (1971–1973): R&B and soul label for musicians from the American west coast. The label closed when Motown moved to Los Angeles. Well-known artists: GC Cameron and Syreeta Wright.

Labels of other genres

  • Divinity Records (1961–1963): Gospel label .
  • Mel-o-dy Records (1962–1965): R&B and soul label that later specialized in white country musicians. Well-known artist: Dorsey Burnette.
  • Workshop Jazz Records (1962–1964): Jazz label. Famous Artists: George Bohannon Trio , Four Tops.
  • Rare Earth Records (1969-1976): Rock label for white musicians, which was named after the band Rare Earth. Famous Artists: Rare Earth, R. Dean Taylor, Stoney & Meatloaf.
  • Weed Records (1969): The only release was the 1969 album CC Rides Again by Chris Clark. The naming rights to Weed Records are now with the Tokyo and New York based company Wee Drecords .
  • Black Forum Records (1970–1973): Label for publications of speeches and poetry by civil rights activists and artists. Known publications by: Martin Luther King Jr. , Stokely Carmichael, and Elaine Brown.
  • Natural Resources Records (1972–1973, 1976, 1978–1979): Label for white musicians and instrumentalists from 1972 to 1973 and 1976. From 1978 to 1979 it was used for re-releases of Motown, Tamla and Gordy as well as Motown compilations .
  • Prodigal Records (1974–1978): Rock and sister label of Rare Earth Records. The artists of Rare Earth Records were taken over after its closure.
  • Hitsville Records (1975–1977): country label . Originally founded as Melodyland Records , the name was changed in 1976. Well-known artists: Pat Boone and TG Sheppard.
  • Motown Latino Records (1982): Label for Spanish-speaking Latin American musicians.
  • Morocco Records (1983–1984): Rock label for white musicians, Morocco is an abbreviation for Motown Rock Company . The label should revive the concept of Rare Earth Records.
  • Mo Jazz Records (1990s): Jazz label. Well-known artists: Pharez Whitted , Norman Brown, Foley and J. Spencer.

Well-known Motown artists

A selection of the most successful and important Motown artists, sorted by the decade in which the contract was signed with the label:

1950s / 1960s

1970s / 1980s

Since 1990s

Web links

Commons : Motown  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  • Peter Benjaminson: The Story of Motown. Grove Press, New York 1979 ISBN 0-394-17554-9
  • Horst Peter Meyer: Dancing In The Street. Motown - Sound Of The Sixties . Sonnentanz Verlag, Augsburg 1995 ISBN 3-926794-23-2
  • Joe McEwen / Jim Miler: Motown . In: Jim Miller (ed.): The Rolling Stone Illustrated History Of Rock & Roll . Random House, New York 1976, pp. 222-233
  • Arnold Shaw: Soul. From the beginnings of the blues to the hits from Memphis and Philadelphia . German by Walle Bengs. Rowohlt, Reinbek bei Hamburg 1980 (original edition 1970), 171–183

Individual evidence

  1. David A. Carson, Grit, Noise, and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock 'n' Roll , 2009, p. 38
  2. ^ Horst-Peter Meyer: Dancing In The Street. Motown - Sound Of The Sixties . Sonnentanz Verlag, Augsburg 1993, p. 96
  3. ^ David A. Carson, Grit, Noise, and Revolution: The Birth of Detroit Rock and Roll , 2006, p. 93
  4. Dennis Coffey, Guitars, Bars and Motown Superstars , 2004, pp. 82 ff.
  5. ^ J. Randy Taraborrelli: Motown. 1986, p. 3