The music that united the world

This is the seventh of my posts based on a recent tour of the eastern half of the USA. I visited a number of sites relevant to African American history. To mark Black History Month, I am relating some of the things I saw, in the order I saw them.

When I started planning my US trip, I had two items high on my bucket list which I wanted to tick. One was the Rosa Parks museum (of which more later in this series) and the other was the Motown museum in Detroit. I was extremely excited to visit the home of Tamla Motown. I made a major 3000 mile detour in my trip just to do it! And I was not disappointed. I have still not completely calmed down from my excitement three weeks after visiting it!

For those readers who are not familiar with Motown music, here’s what the “Historic Michigan” plaque outside the museum in suburban Detroit says:

The “Motown Sound” was created on this site from 1959 to 1972. The company started with an $800 loan from the savings club of the Bertha and Barry Gordy Sr., family. Originally called Tamla Records, the company’s first national release was “Money (That’s What I Want),” in August 1959. The founder, choosing a name that reflected the Motor City, coined the word “Motown” for the company that was incorporated as the Motown Record Corporation on April 14, 1960. That same year it produced its first gold record, “Shop Around.” In 1968 the company, which had grown from a family-oriented business to an international enterprise, moved its business operations to 2457 Woodward. Motown provided an opportunity for Detroit’s inner-city youth to reach their full potential and become super stars.

By the end of its first decade, Motown was the largest independent manufacturer of single 45 rpm records in the world. Among Motown’s record labels were Tamla, Motown, Gordy, Soul, VIP, Rare Earth, Black Forum, Workshop, Jazz, Divinity and others. In 1972 Motown moved its headquarters to Los Angeles, California. The company expanded its television productions and entered the motion picture industry. Lady Sings the Blues, Motown’s first feature-length film, received five Academy Award Nominations. By 1975, Motown Industries was the largest black-owned corporation in the world. In 1980 the Motown Historical Museum was established at Hitsville U.S.A. to commemorate the Motown Sound and to memorialize Motown’s distinctive heritage and its global impact.

“The largest black-owned corporation in the world” – that’s amazing. But the big significance of Motown is that it united everyone in their love of the music. It wasn’t just black people who enjoyed Motown – it was everyone. Indeed, in this country the leading pioneer of Motown music, dare I mention him, was Tony Blackburn.

What is stunning about the Motown Museum is how small the operation was (when it started – later it expanded to several suburban houses). It was literally just a house. Berry Gordy lived upstairs with his family (you can visit the flat with its original 1960s furnishings) and shipped the records from his dining room table. Downstairs the studio was in the garage and the control room was in the kitchen.

To stand in Studio A, the garage, and just imagine all the vast number of Motown hits which were created there – was just mind-blowing. Here’s a gratuitous snap of me standing outside “Hitsville USA”:

* Paul Walter is a Liberal Democrat activist. He is currently taking a break from his role as one of the Liberal Democrat Voice team. He blogs at Liberal Burblings.

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  • Michael Cole 7th Oct '17 - 1:06pm

    Dear Paul, It’s a shame that you do not pay tribute to America’s greatest contribution to the arts. I am referring of course to the music of Armstrong, Ellington, Parker and many others.

    While it is undeniable that sales of jazz records are far outnumberd by those sold by Tamla, the musicianship, originality and variety of jazz is far superior (imo).

  • Christopher Haigh 7th Oct '17 - 8:07pm

    I think Paul.McCartney was influenced by those great Tamla Motown melodic bass lines. In general British groups such as the Beetles and the Rolling Stones did a great service to racial integration in the USA through helping bring black American music into the mainstream. Love reading your article Paul.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 8th Oct '17 - 12:20am

    Paul, Michael, brilliant to see you saluting both, indeed , Louis was known as Satchmo , and it contains the word Mo, I like it all, especially though, Sammy Davis Jr !!!

  • Sue Sutherland 8th Oct '17 - 12:29pm

    I would go to the Motown museum in preference to jazz because for me it was the joyful sound of my optimistic, idealistic youth with a message of hope for racial integration. I realise that jazz was part of that too but Motown was so vivid.
    Quite often, when I think about what’s happening in our country and the USA, the music of Tamla Motown comes into my mind and I wonder where it all went wrong.

  • Michael Cole 9th Oct '17 - 1:05pm

    Paul, The choice of music is of course a matter of personal preference. But your statement that ” I don’t actually like jazz” leads me to believe that either you have not made the effort to listen to this music or you have listened to the ‘wrong’ stuff.

    There are many forms and styles of jazz, ranging from the early New Orleans bands to the avant garde, so there is a very wide spectrum from which to choose. One of the aspects of jazz is that it is a highly individual music and appeals to my liberal instincts.

    As for your suggetion that “If you want to write about jazz and submit an article to LDV”, I don’t think that would be a relevant subject for this site, but if you are interested I would be pleased to send you a brief listening list; or perhaps your brothers could set you on the right path 🙂

    Lorenzo, I’m glad to learn that fellow LDs appreciate good jazz. I wouldn’t say that Sammy Davis was a jazz singer but he was jazz-influenced and a great performer.

  • I hope nobody will object to me using this column to express my sadness at the passing of Tom Petty……… and what a wonderful collection of talent we used to have with the Travelling Wilburys :

    Traveling Wilburys – End Of The Line – YouTube

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