From the 1950s until the 1960s, Detroit was considered the capital for black American culture. As the auto industry in the city boomed, the music and nightlife became so important as an escape from the mundane 40-hour workweek. In 1960, Motown Records was formed and forever changed the landscape of music.
Berry Gordy Jr. was born in Detroit in 1929, his father had migrated from Georgia to escape the racially segregated South and to find job opportunities in the auto industry. Around 6 million black Americans left the southern states for cities up north for similar reasons, this was called the Great Migration. Berry grew up in an entrepreneurial house, as his dad set up many businesses in the city as a means to provide for his family. Growing up his main interests were in boxing and music.
After boxing professionally and serving in the US Army, he began writing music and also opened his own record store. He first wrote songs for Jackie Wilson, even though none were major hits it provided him some extra income and also built his network of artists in the area. He discovered the Miracles in 1957, which eventually pushed him to start his record label which he initially called Tamla Records. The business incorporated as Motown Records in 1960 and they built their first office and recording studio on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, they named it Hitsville USA.
In 1961, Motown got their first number one record with, “Please Mr.Postman” by the Marvelettes. They would eventually earn 110 top ten hits in the next ten years, as the label featured the talents of Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5, and others.
The beauty in art is in its ability to break down barriers. Motown’s success was evident with black Americans, but their music also captured white audiences in the US and around the world. Motown’s slogan “The Sound of Young America”, unified people of all races and backgrounds amid the Civil Rights Movement in America. Musicians have the power to use their platforms to speak on social problems the world faces. They also have the talent to make music for the world to enjoy and dance to, which Motown proved to be a great way to connect people.
Following the Detroit Riot in 1967, the company moved to Los Angeles where it continued to make great music. They also set up a TV subsidiary that produced television specials for some of the acts on Motown. Their run of hits would eventually come to an end as acts began to depart from the label. Berry Gordy would eventually sell the company, but there’s no doubting the impact it had on music and culture. As a black businessman, Berry Gordy Jr exceeded all expectations with Motown Records, which provided a platform for black artists and entertainment for millions of Americans.
Written By: Ian-Maxime Lufitha