Growing up as a teenager in the 60’s I loved the sound of music coming from the studios of the record company Motown in Detroit Michigan. To me at the time Detroit seemed like a world away. Little did I know I would one day live just a little over 100 miles from the city.
Today the studio where most of the music of Motown was recorded is a museum. Called Hitsville USA the museum hosts visitors from around the world who come to see the place where the magic began.
Looking back now at that time in American it is ironic to me that this record company founded by a black man, Berry Gordy, and featuring black singers should rise to such success at the same time that much of the country still had Jim Crow laws.
Diana Ross told a story of being in New Orleans for a show. When she stopped to take a drink at a fountain she noticed people all around her staring. Pleased at first at the thought that she had been recognized by fans, she was soon disappointed to see that their stares were because she was drinking at a fountain marked “for whites only.”
When Gordy took a group of his new artists on a bus tour in the south they stopped for the night at a hotel. Hot from the long day on the road, they quickly put on their swimming suits and jumped in the pool. All the whites in the pool just as quickly got of the pool. After a few minutes when they discovered that the blacks in the pool were Motown artists, they joined them in the pool.
Some of the great artists of this record company that I loved to listen to:
I especially loved Chubby Checker who started the twist. My brother would often tease me by singing the one line from the song:
You should see my little sis. She knows how to rock, she knows how to twist.
This year Motown celebrates 50 years making music. Gordy started the business with a family loan of $800 but it quickly grew into a financial success. It became the most successful independent record company in history and the most successful African-American-owned business in America.
Perhaps the greatest achievement of Motown was how it helped to break down racial prejudice.