As this historic record label commemorates its 50th year in the music industry, let's learn more about the history of this iconic music leader:
"One of the principles we had at Motown was that success will come, but that is not enough," founder Berry Gordy explained. "You had to be proud of yourself in order to achieve true happiness. And if you do it right, not only will you be successful, you'll be happy. And at Motown, we're the happiest people in the world."
His feelings on the meaning of Motown border on the mystical.
"Motown is a magical something that has never been seen before and will never be seen again. Because the world has changed for the worse. And to have a company like that is probably impossible now. It was too simple to be believed."
Berry Gordy is indeed a happy man. He formed the Motown Record Corporation in 1960 after a year of being called Tamla Records. And now, fifty years later, the world will help celebrate the legendary record label with a series of gala events.
Berry Gordy actually started his career in the music industry as a songwriter for local Detroit musicians such as Jackie Wilson and The Matadors. In fact, Wilson's single, "Lonely Teardrops" became a huge hit, but Gordy did not feel that he made as much money as he deserved and soon Gordy realized that the more lucrative part of the music industry was in producing and owning the publishing rights.
So, with an $800 loan from family members, Gordy started Tamla Records, signing his first act, The Matadors (who changed their name to The Miracles). In fact, The Miracles lead singer, Smokey Robinson became vice president of the company and many of Gordy's family also assumed roles in the company.
In 1959, Gordy purchased property that would eventually become Tamla's "Hitsville U.S.A."studio. The property was modified into a small recording studio with Gordy moving into the second floor living quarters. Over the next few years, Motown would go on to own several more neighboring houses, with administrative offices, mixing and mastering studios and rehearsal studios.
Success came quickly for the new record label, the first hit single was Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" in 1959 (#2 on Billboard R&B charts) and the first #1 R&B hit was "Shop Around," by The Miracles in 1960 (which also peaked at #2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and was Motown's first million-dollar selling record).
From 1961-1971, Motown Records had 100 Top Ten Hits from such music artists as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops, and the Jackson 5, among others. In addition, the company operated several other record labels (besides releases on the Tamla and Motown labels) including "Gordy," which featured such acts as the Temptations, the Contours and Martha & the Vandellas, "V.I.P," which released music by the Velvelettes and the Spinners. Another label, "Soul" released recordings by Jr. Walker & the All Stars, Jimmy Ruffin, and Gladys Knight & the Pips. Other labels included "Workshop Jazz" (which released Jazz music), "Mel-o-dy" (country music) and "Rare Earth," which focused on rock recordings. Gordy utilized the slogan "The Sound Of Young America" and Motown acts enjoyed widespread popularity with both black and white audiences.