Profile: Motown

A typical Motown label of the Sixties
A typical Motown label of the Sixties.


December 14, 1959 (Detroit, MI) by Berry Gordy, Jr. (b. November 29, 1928, Detroit, MI)

Associated Labels:

Motown, Tamla, Gordy, Soul, Tamla-Motown (UK), Rare Earth, V.I.P, MoWest, Workshop Jazz, Black Forum, Mel-o-dy, Ric-Tic, Divinity, Chisa, Miracle, Anna, Ecology, Latino, Morocco

Famous Artists:

Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Jackson 5, The Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, The Marvelettes, Tammi Terrell, The Isley Brothers, Kim Weston, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rare Earth, The Commodores, Lionel Richie, Rick James

Contributions to music:

  • The first American music label owned by an African-American
  • The first music label to successfully market Black artists to white mainstream audiences
  • Responsible for discovering, mentoring, and perfecting a number of American popular music's most influential and successful artists
  • Created a "charm school" to ensure that its acts were unformly palatable to the mainstream
  • Employed the legendary musicians known as The Funk Brothers and the songwriting team of Holland-Dozier-Holland

Early years:

Professional boxer, Korean war vet, and jazz record store owner Berry Gordy began his career in music when family connections led him to meet up and coming singer Jackie Wilson at Detroit's Flame Show Bar. Wilson enjoyed a national hit with "Reet Petite" in 1957, a song co-written by Gordy. By January 1959, Berry had assembled a stable of local talent, and created the Tamla label to produce their hits like Marv Johnson's "You Got What It Takes" and Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)."


Urged on by another of his artists, Smokey Robinson, Gordy created the Motown label as a pop counterpart to Tamla's R&B aspirations. 1960's "Shop Around, by Smokey and the Miracles, was the label's first pop smash; Gordy expanded his stable of mostly-Black artists, grooming them carefully so as to be "presentable" to white America. 1963's "Come and Get These Memories," by Martha and the Vandellas, debuted the pop-soul "Motown Sound," later labeled by the company as the "Sound of Young America."

Later years:

The hits kept coming, but the 1967 Detroit race riots caused Gordy to move to Los Angeles, and by 1972 the label had followed suit. Some of his main artists were given creative control and stayed, but most, dismayed by his heavy hand, did not. The label enjoyed success through the early Eighties with old and new acts, but by 1988 Gordy had sold the label to MCA; today, Universal Music Group owns the label and EMI its song copyrights. Gordy's net worth is somewhere around half a billion dollars.

Other facts:

  • Gordy once fought on the same card as legendary boxer Joe Louis
  • Original name for the Tamla label was "Tammy," after the Debbie Reynolds song, but it was taken
  • The powerful Jobete publishing company that published Motown songs was named for Gordy's three children: Hazel Joy, Berry IV, and Terry
  • First record released on any Motown-related label: "Come To Me," Marv Johnson (Tamla 101), January 1959
  • First release with an actual Motown label: "My Beloved," The Satintones (Motown 1000), February 1960


1719 Gladstone Street, Detroit, MI (original Tamla offices), 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, MI (original Motown office and studio), 5750 Wilshire Boulevard, Suite 300, Los Angeles, CA (Seventies offices)

Famous Songs, Albums, and Charts:

Biggest hits:

  • "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," "Let's Get It On," "What's Going On," "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)," Marvin Gaye
  • "I'll Be There," "ABC," "I Want You Back," The Jackson 5
  • "Baby Love," "Where Did Our Love Go," "You Keep Me Hangin' On," "Love Child," "Someday We'll Be Together," Diana Ross and The Supremes
  • "Fingertips (Part 2)," "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," "I Was Made To Love Her," Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "Superstition," "Sir Duke," "I Wish," Stevie Wonder
  • "My Girl," "The Way You Do The Things You Do," "I Can't Get Next To You," "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," The Temptations
  • "I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)," "(Reach Out) I'll Be There," "Bernadette," "Standing In The Shadows Of Love," The Four Tops
  • "Shop Around," "I Second That Emotion," "Tracks Of My Tears," "Tears Of A Clown," Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
  • "This Old Heart Of Mine," The Isley Brothers
  • "Brick House," "Easy," "Three Times A Lady," The Commodores
  • "Super Freak," "Give It To Me Baby," Rick James
  • What's Going On (1971), Let's Get It On (1973), Marvin Gaye
  • Innervisions (1972), Talking Book (1973), Songs In The Key Of Life (1976), Stevie Wonder
  • Reach Out (1967), The Four Tops
  • All I Need Is Time (1973), Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • Make It Happen (1967), Special Occasion (1968), Smokey Robison and the Miracles
  • With A Lot O' Soul (1967), The Temptations