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Mon, 01.12.1959

Motown Records is Founded

Motown Record Company, one of the first large Black-owned music companies in America, was founded on this date in 1959.  It was also the source of a variant of Black popular music that earned worldwide acclaim in the 1960s.

Motown was founded in Detroit by Berry Gordy, Jr., a successful rhythm-and-blues songwriter. The company enjoyed local success and scored its first nationwide hits with singles by two of its earliest musical groups, the Miracles’ "Shop Around" (1960) and the Marvelettes' "Please Mr. Postman" (1961).

In 1962, Motown absorbed several other small Detroit recording companies, and by 1964 it had acquired the talents of male vocal groups such as the Temptations and the Four Tops; female vocal groups such as the Supremes and the Vandellas; and such solo vocalists as Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Junior Walker, and Stevie Wonder. They performed songs written in large part by the teams of Holland-Dozier-Holland and Ashford & Simpson.

They were recorded to accompany a studio band of local jazz musicians featuring Benny Benjamin on drums, James Jamerson on bass guitar, Joe Hunter or Earl Van Dyke on piano, and Dave Hamilton on vibraphone or guitar. The resulting "Motown sound" featured lyrical ballads of great melodic charm sung to a strong rhythmic accompaniment with a surprising lightness of touch. Motown added the Isley Brothers, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Tammi Terrell to its talent roster in 1966. By this time, the company virtually dominated Black popular music and had attracted a significant White audience as well.

Motown's hit-making pace slowed somewhat with the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland in 1967, but by 1969, it was back on track with the popular Jackson Five group. Motown's most successful artists in the 1970s and '80s included Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, Lionel Ritchie, and the Commodores. Gordy moved the company headquarters to Los Angeles in 1971, dabbled in motion pictures then, and sold Motown Records to MCA in 1988.

Under its new president, the company again developed a fresh, snappy sound and won success with young acts such as the vocal group Boyz II Men. Their single "End of the Road" set records in 1992 by remaining at number one on the Billboard charts for 13 weeks, longer than any other song since the pop charts began. In 1993, the PolyGram Group purchased Motown Records from MCA.

Motown spent much of the 2000s headquartered in New York City as a part of the UMG subsidiaries Universal Motown and Universal Motown Republic Group. From 2011 to 2014, it was a part of The Island Def Jam Music Group division of Universal Music.  In 2014, however, UMG announced the dissolution of Island Def Jam. Motown relocated back to Los Angeles to operate under the Capitol Music Group, now operating out of the Capitol Tower.  In 2018, Motown was inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in a ceremony held at the Charles H. Wright Museum.


Heart & Soul:
A Celebration of Black Music Style in America, 1930-1975
By Merlis Davin Seay, Foreword by Etta James
Copyright 2002, Billboard Books
ISBN 0-8230-8314-4

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