History of Motown Record Label: Berry Gordy and Rhythm and Blues Music

Berry Gordy Junior was born in Detroit in November 28, 1929. He was the next to the youngest child of Berry Gordy Senior and his wife Bertha. Berry dropped out of high school to become a professional boxer. He then was recruited in the Army in 1950.

When his hitch in the Army ended three years later, Berry Gordy returned home and married his sweetheart, a girl named Thelma Coleman. Instead of returning to the boxing ring, Berry Junior decided to concentrate on his second love, which was writing songs. His big break came when singer Jackie Wilson recorded a song titled, “Reet Petite.” It was co-written by Gordy, his sister Gwen, and Billy Davis. The song became fairly popular, and it lead Gordy to co-write four more songs for Wilson.

From songwriting, Berry Gordy turned to producing records. He found Smokey Robinson and The Miracles in 1957. Then, in 1959, he started a new record label, Tamla Records. His company centered on rythym and blues songs. Gordy then started the Motown record label in 1959.(The name was derived from the words “motor town”, a term that described Detroit.) When Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ number one hit, “Shop Around” reached the top of the charts in 1960, the exposure gave Motown the notice it needed to become established.

Being that Berry Gordy was an Afro-American record producer, he often signed others like him onto his labels. His aim was to put Afro-American rhythm and blues music in front of white American audiences so it could take on cultural acceptance. Not only did Gordy succeed at this goal, but his endeavors also advanced rhythm and blues music, Afro-American singers, and songwriters.

Gordy did sign Caucasian singing acts such as Nick and the Jaguars, The Valadiers, and Debbie Dean onto his record labels. However, when he found an Afro-American singer, he not only gave them a contract, but he also carefully groomed them for success. Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Mary Wells, Diana Ross and The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Commodores, Martha & the Vandellas, and The Jackson Five are some of the
talent that Berry Gordy helped to make successful.

And in turn, hits like “You Can’t Hurry Love” and “You Keep Me Hanging On” by Diana Ross and the Supremes; “Reach Out I’ll Be There” by the Four Tops; “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye; “I Can’t Get Next to You” by the Temptations; “I Want You Back” by the Jackson Five, and many more songs made the Motown record label a smashing success.

Motown had also expanded its musical horizons by specializing in not only rhythm and blues, but pop, soul, and hip-hop music as well.

Los Angeles, California became Berry Gordy’s new home in 1968 when he moved his Motown empire there. Then, four years later, Gordy again moved his business to Los Angeles.

In 1973, Berry Gordy expanded Motown into “Motown Industries.” The new company not only recorded songs, but it also ventured into the television and publishing fields.

Berry Gordy Junior finally sold Motown Industries in 1988 for more than sixty million dollars. Motown had become the most successful record label that was owned by an Afro-American. In honor of his achievements in the music business, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

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