Motown, also known as Tamla-Motown outside the U.S., is a record label founded on December 14 1959 by Berry Gordy, Jr. in Motor Town Detroit, Michigan, and named for the city's association with the automobile industry. In the 1960s it was the most successful proponent of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, a style of soul music with distinctive characteristics including the use of tambourine along with drums, bass instrumentation, and a 'call and response' singing style originating in gospel music. While there were popular African-American musicians prior to the 1960s, including Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, Mamie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, and Chuck Berry, Motown was the most consistently chart-topping genre until perhaps hip hop. In contrast to previous genres of black popular music, Motown soul used African-American performers instead of grooming white musicians for crossover fame. It was also the first genre of African-American popular music to move beyond simple lyricisms into the realm of socio-political topics, allowing for a wide range of African-American viewpoints to be expressed in song.
The Motown Sound was also defined by the use of orchestration, string sections, charted horn sections, carefully arranged harmonies and other more refined pop music production techniques. It was also one of the first styles of pop music of that era wherein girl groups were showcased as an act, as opposed to individual female artists. Such as The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and the Marvelettes. The acts on the Motown label were fastidiously groomed, dressed and choreographed for live performances. Motown artists were told that their breakthrough into the white popular music market made them ambassadors for other African-American artists seeking broad market acceptance, and that they should think, act, walk and talk like royalty, so as to alter the less-than-dignified image (commonly held by white Americans in that era) of black musicians.
Many of Motown's most well known songs, such as all of the early hits for The Supremes, were written by the songwriting trio Holland-Dozier-Holland. The many artists of Motown Records collaborated to produce several hit songs, although the process has been described as factory-like (such as the Brill Building).
In the 1960's (from 1961 to 1971) , Motown had 110 Top 10 hits and artists such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Jackson Five and Gladys Knight were all signed to Motown Records. After Holland-Dozier-Holland left the label in 1968 over royalty payment disputes, the quality of the Motown output began to decline, as well as the frequency with which its artists scored #1 hits. Even so, Motown stil boasted a roster of successful artists during the 1970s and 1980s, including Lionel Richie and The Commodores and DeBarge. Berry Gordy sold his ownership in Motown to MCA and Boston Ventures in June 1988 for $61 million. Today a subsidary of Universal Music, Motown is still active as a record label, and has been home to artists such as Boyz II Men, Erykah Badu, and India.Arie. Stevie Wonder and The Temptations are still signed to Motown to this day.
From 1959 to 1971, many of these acts were backed by Motown Records' major studio band, The Funk Brothers, which was credited for being instrumental in creating the essential sound of Motown. The band's career and work is chronicled in the acclaimed documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown.
See also: Berry Gordy, Northern Soul, Hitsville U.S.A.
The Motown Corporation during the 60's, 70's & 80's comprised of more than 45 labels in varying genrés either owned or distributed.
- http://www.motown.com/ Motown Records
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