Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I'm
I'm Doug Johnson. American popular music changed forever fifty years ago when
Berry Gordy, Junior started a record company in Detroit, Michigan.
It grew to become one of
the most successful black-owned businesses in the United States. This week on
our program, we explore the music of Motown.
That was Universal Motown artist
Akon singing the title song from his latest album, "Freedom." The company is now part of the Universal
Music Group with headquarters in New York City.
It observed Motown's fiftieth anniversary in
January with ceremonies at the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit. The museum
includes the original apartment and recording studio that Berry Gordy called "Hitsville,
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio is celebrating the record company's
anniversary all year with a new exhibit "Motown: The Sound of Young America
Turns Fifty." It is displaying
instruments, clothing, programs, recordings and other objects from Motown's
many successful singers and groups.
One of these was the Miracles, led by singer
Smokey Robinson. The group had Motown's
first big hit in nineteen sixty, "Shop Around."
Gordy had worked in many jobs before starting Motown Records. He had written and sold a few songs. But he wanted
more control over his product. He also
wanted to create what he called a hit factory, an idea he got from working for
the Ford Motor Company.
took other ideas from the American auto industry, too. The name "Motown," for
example, is another form of Detroit's nickname, the "Motor City".
And his quality control system at Motown was like a
similar system in car factories. It
included weekly meetings where company officials worked together to make
recording and marketing decisions.
But Motown created more than records. It also designed the artists' live performances. And it taught them how to sing, dance, walk,
talk and dress.
is known for its special sound that was influenced by jazz, gospel and rhythm
and blues. It also used different sound
effects. Motown's first recording studio
included an echo chamber. This echo effect
can be heard on the recording of this huge hit for the Supremes in nineteen
sixty-four, "Where Did Our Love Go?"
Motown was at the height of its
success in the nineteen sixties. One
reason was because the company permitted people to be creative. They were not afraid to make mistakes. The
songs were simple and easy to understand.
They were recorded with excellent backup singers and musicians. One of
the most successful Motown groups of the nineteen sixties was the
Temptations. Here they sing one of their
hits, "Ain't Too Proud to Beg."
of Motown's hit records were written and produced by a team of three men--
Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland.
The three were known as HDH.
Holland, Dozier and Holland left Motown
in nineteen sixty-eight. The three men
were not satisfied with their earnings. Motown took legal action, accusing them
of violating songwriting agreements.
The three then accused Motown of dishonesty
and violating their business relationship. This legal battle continued for years before
being settled out of court. It was just one
example of problems at the company.
artists questioned what they were being paid. For example, Gladys Knight and the Pips left
Motown in nineteen seventy-three because they never felt completely accepted by
the company. One of their big Motown
hits was "I Heard It through the Grapevine."
Berry Gordy moved Motown
headquarters to Los Angeles, California in nineteen seventy-two. The company started producing television
shows and movies.
the same time, Motown was developing new acts. One of the most successful was
the family group called the Jackson Five.
Their first single record reached number one in nineteen seventy. Here it is, "I Want You Back."
Another extremely successful Motown singer was Marvin
Gaye. He recorded and wrote music for Motown
artists for twenty years. In nineteen
seventy-one, his album "What's Going On?" used jazz and classical music to
create songs that explored social issues.
Here is Marvin Gaye singing the title song.
important long-time Motown artist is Stevie Wonder. Motown signed him to his
first contract at the age of twelve. One of Stevie Wonder's big hits was "Superstition."
In the nineteen eighties, Motown was in financial trouble.
Berry Gordy finally sold the company in
nineteen eighty-eight. He reportedly
said at the time that Motown had lost the spirit it had during its time in
Detroit. But he and others say Motown
will always be remembered for its historic influence on American popular music.
("Dancing in the Street"/Martha and the Vandellas)
Our program was written by Nancy Steinbach and produced
by Caty Weaver. I'm Doug Johnson.
I'm Faith Lapidus. Join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA