12 Jan: Motown Begins

When Berry Gordy, Jr. founded Tamla Records in Detroit on 12th January, 1959, he reshaped popular music forever. With an iconic artist roster that included The Temptations, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5, Motown’s ability to identify and nurture talent – inspired by the principles of a car production line – were unprecedented.

Gordy’s journey, from a professional boxer and owner of a jazz record store to becoming a songwriter and producer, underscored his innate understanding of popular appeal. ‘The Motown Sound’, carefully crafted for crossover appeal, redefined genres for broader audiences.

In this episode, Arion, Rebecca and Olly explain how Gordy’s production philosophy was decades ahead of its time; consider the challenges faced by the label in the 70s and 80s; and reveals how Martha Reeves became a lead vocalist, after starting at Hitsville as a secretary…

Further Reading:

• ‘From the archive, 1 May 1972: Motown – the sound that changed America’ (The Guardian, 2014): https://www.theguardian.com/theguardian/2014/may/01/motown-detroit-soul-berry-gordy

• ‘Motown: The music that changed America’ (BBC Culture, 2019): https://www.bbc.co.uk/culture/article/20190109-motown-the-music-that-changed-america

• ‘Smokey Robinson & Berry Gordy: “I’ll Try Something New”, from “Hitsville”’ (Showtime, 2019):