Motown Turns 50

Michael E. Ross and Mark Anthony Neal examine the legendary record company and discuss its involvement in the civil rights movement. Motown did more than produce great music, it contributed to the development of America. Take a look at some of the faces behind the Motown movement.

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  • A Brand is Born

    A Brand is Born

    In January 1959, at the age of 29, Berry Gordy founded Tamla Records with an $800 loan from his family. Later that year, on Dec. 14, Tamla became Motown Records.

  • Boulevard of Dreams -- Hitsville, U.S.A

    Motown Records was first housed at 2468 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan. Since its beginning in Detroit, Motown has always kept in touch with the pulse of young black America. Currently, with Nelly, Lloyd, and other artists, Motown looks forward to the next 50 years.

  • Come Along for the Ride: The Motown Family

    Berry Gordy and the early Motown artists worked hard to develop a sense of dignity and class for black artists. Here, the artists stop along their 1965 U.K. tour for a photo.

  • Diana Ross & The Supremes

    Diana Ross & The Supremes

    Diana Ross & The Supremes were Berry Gordy’s models of beauty and class during the 1960s and 70s when the group became Motown’s most commercially successful act with 12 No. 1 singles on the Billboard Hot 100.

    Left to right: Florence Ballard, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson

  • Gladys Knight & The Pips

    Gladys Knight & The Pips

    The Pips were formed in Atlanta, Ga. in 1953 with Gladys Knight–who was only 8 years old–as the lead singer. The group, renamed Gladys Knight & the Pips, signed with Motown in 1966 and enjoyed success with such hits as “Everybody Needs Love (1967),” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1967),” and “Midnight Train to Georgia (1973).”

    Left to right: Edward Patten, Merald “Bubba” Knight, Gladys Knight, William “Red” Guest

  • Motown On Stage

    Motown artists frequently performed together. Here, in 1964, Martha & The Vandellas (far right) and other acts perform behind Marvin Gaye (center) at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.

  • Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

    Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

    During the 1960s, Smokey and The Miracles were one of Motown’s signature acts. The group churned out such unmistakable hits as “Shop Around (1960),” “You Really Got a Hold On Me (1962),” “Tears of a Clown (1965),” and “Going to a Go-Go (1965).” Berry Gordy signed the group in 1959–as one of his first acts–before Tamla Records became Motown Records.

    Left to right: Pete Moore, Smokey Robinson, Bobby Rogers, Ronald White

  • The Commodores

    The Commodores

    The Commodores followed the tradition of Smokey Robinson & The Miracles and The Temptations, and continued Motown’s legacy into the 1970s and ’80s.

    Top Row (left to right): Milian Williams, Ronald LaPread, Lionel Ritchie.

    Bottom Row (left to right): William King, Walter “Clyde” Orange, Thomas McClary

  • The Jackson 5

    The Jackson 5

    The Jackson 5 was on of Motown’s most successful acts and was the pioneers of the ‘boy band’ model. The J5 was the first act in recorded history to propel its first four singles–“I Want you Back” (1969), “ABC” (1970), “The Love You Save” (1970), and “I’ll Be There”(1970)–to the top of the Billboard Hot 100.

    Top row (left to right): Marlon, Jackie
    Bottom row (left to right): Tito, Michael, Jermaine

  • The Four Tops

    The Four Tops

    The Four Tops were signed to Motown in 1963. The group differed from most all-male groups of the time by having a baritone lead-singer, rather than a tenor. With this unique characteristic, The Four Tops contributed to Motowns early success with a number of hit singles, including “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” (1965) and “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (1966).

    Top row (left to right): Abdul “Duke” Fakir, Lawrence Payton
    Bottom row (left to right): Levi Stubbs, Renaldo “Obie” Benson

  • The King of Motown: Berry Gordy

    On Oct. 20, 2007, Motown began a two-year celebration of its 50th anniversary. Here, Berry Gordy rejoices at the kickoff event in Detroit.