Monday, January 12, 2009

Motown's 50th Anniversary

If you are a music lover like I am, take a moment today to bow in the direction of Detroit before it's over.

Today was the day 50 years ago that Berry Gordy received an $800 loan that he used to found Motown Records.

The 'Sound of Young America' eventually became a music juggernaut that swept the country. Music fans of all races danced to its infectious beat and Motown was the label that signed and launched the musical careers of Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, The Four Tops, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Jackson 5, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Mary Wells, and later Rick James, Johnny Gill and Teena Marie.

The 'Hitsville USA' moniker that was on the outside of Motown headquarters was prophetic. An astounding 75% of the songs released under its label made the Billboard and other national Top 40 lists.

Shoot, is it any wonder with the talent assembled there? Don't even get me started talking about the producing team of Holland, Dozier, Holland or the 'Funk Brothers' or the marvelous musicians that backed up the vocal talents of that Motown stable of talent.

Motown has long since left Detroit and after spending time headquartered in LA, moved to New York. It eventually became the largest Black owned entertainment company in the US before it was eventually sold to MCA.

But during that time it built a proud, pioneering legacy. It has even left its mark on Detroit politics with Martha Reeves currently serving as a Detroit city councilmember.

Motown is not only credited with paving the way for integration to happen in some cases, it radically altered the perceptions of African-American artists, how they are marketed and left an indelible mark not only on our culture, but American music forever.


dr.morbius said...

I love Motown, though I'll admit a preference for Stax/Volt (just a matter of taste, really). Still and all, I'd kill to see a battle of the bands between The Funk Brothers and Booker T and the M.G.s.

I didn't know that Martha Reeves went into politics. Good for her. The last thing I heard by her was a cover of "Wild Night" on the Thelma and Louise soundtrack.

I'm thinking of visiting Detroit soon (I have a very dear friend there). I might have to take some time out to visit Hitsville U.S.A., if it still exists.

Monica Roberts said...

The Stax Volt stuff is the bomb as well, but I had a more personal connection with it thanks to my dad being in radio.

The Hitsville USA studios are a museum. I was driven by them on my 1999 visit to Detroit.

Polar said...

Well, the Stax/Volt guys might have an advantage over the Brothers in that band battle, since so many of the Funk Brothers are playing at the Lord's club these days - most notably leader Joe Hunter, the great pianist Earl Van Dyke, and the most influential bassist to ever live, James Jamerson. Bass players in all forms of music, to this day, strive to sound like Jamerson.

What both Motown and Stax/Volt have in common is simply superior musicianship and songwriting. When you have both, you have magic.