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Six Lit Moments in Motown History

$800 And A Dream

A little can go a long way. Berry Gordy received an $800 loan from his family savings–a loan that his sister was reluctant to give him. Gordy launched Tamla Records in January 1959 with the song “Come To Me” by Marv Johnson. In August of the same year, he bought the first building to house Motown Records at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan, the now historic building that has since been turned into the Motown Museum. It was a small price to change the course of music forever.

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The Motown UK Invasion with Stevie Wonder

Twelve-year-old Stevland Morris was signed under his stage name, Stevie Wonder, in 1963. He became the first Motown artist to perform outside of North America during the height of the Jim Crow Era, giving Black artists a way to escape the racial bias felt in the United States during that time. “Coming from the United States during that era was quite an eye-opener, to see how well we were received,” Mary Wilson was quoted to say in a 1964 interview about her experience performing in London. Mary Wells’ hit “My Guy” became Motown’s fourth #1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and more notably became the label’s first #1 hit in the UK. In 1968, The Four Tops’ ‘Greatest Hits’ album hit #1 in the UK, marking Motown’s first #1 album in the UK ever.

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Motown Dominates the Billboard Hot 100 Charts & Wins Their First GRAMMY

In 1967, Motown has ten of Billboard’s top 100 best-selling albums, including the ‘Diana Ross & The Supremes Greatest Hits’ album from the supergroup, which peaked at #1. The label took half the top ten spots on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1968, including hits from Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and the duet between Diana Ross & The Supremes and The Temptations, “I’m Gonna Make You Love Me.” The label won its first GRAMMY in 1969 with The Temptations single, “Cloud Nine.” In 1977, Thelma Houston’s “Don’t Leave Me This Way” was Motown’s first hit to reach #1 on the pop, R&B, and dance charts. The takeover was swift and sweet.

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The Jackson’s Permanently Change America’s Groove

The Jackson 5 exploded into black culture and music in October 1969 with the debut single “I Want You Back,” with lead singer Michael Jackson who was only ten years old at the time. The single spent four week at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. Obviously, he went on to be one of the biggest superstars in the world and a key figure in Motown’s history.

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(Photo Source: www.billieholiday.com)

Motown Ventures Into Cinema

Motown Records ventures into television and cinema under the name Motown Productions, releasing seven titles between 1975 and 1985 including Lady Sings the Blues, Mahogany, The Wiz, and The Last Dragon, three of which starred Diana Ross and two of which Berry Gordy directed. The new production company also created a Saturday-morning cartoon series The Jackson 5ive, featuring a fictionalized version of the show’s namesake group as they navigate show business.

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(Photo Source: Benjamin Norman/The New York Times)

The New Definition of Soul, A New Era Continues The Legacy Of Excellence  

Over the years, Motown has transformed into a new cultural movement. Under new leadership Ethiopia Habtemariam, the label is appealing to a whole new generation of listeners, targeting the same groups that Berry Gordy envisioned six decades before. Generation-crossing artist Erykah Badu maintains her relevancy in young and old Motown listeners with her 2015 EP ‘Cain’t Use My Phone’ which sparked from rap and pop star Drake’s hit, “Hotline Bling.” Motown has evolved into the rap genre with some this generation’s biggest acts, including Migos and Lil Yachty. In 2017, Migos became the first ever rap group to perform at the Met Gala. Known as the “King of Teens,” Lil Yachty released his debut album ‘Teenage Emotions’ in which Rolling Stone said he is “probably going to change the world” in an album review. Happiness really can change the world!

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