“(YOU) HEARD IT THROUGH THE GRAPEVINE”
Motown is of course a reference to “Motor City,” or the city of Detroit. Berry Gordy began his business there by buying a two story house on West Grand Boulevard. The office was on the first floor, Berry and his family lived on the second floor, and a tiny recording studio was located in a structure out in the back. Motown soon outgrew the place and expanded to seven other residences adjacent to the original house.
His first signed act was The Matadors. He changed their name to The Miracles and brought their lead man, Smokey Robinson, into the company management. Gordy’s first hit record was “Money (That’s What I Want)” which climbed to #2 on the R&B charts. Motown’s first #1 hit was “Please Mr. Postman” sung by the Marvelettes. But this was just the beginning. By the mid-sixties, Motown was a major power in both the R&B and Pop music industries. Under Berry Gordy’s guidance and force of personality, the company had 110 Top Ten hits in its first ten years.Motown’s songwriters and performers enjoyed nationwide popularity with both black and whites audiences during a time of racial unrest and conflict. Its music found acceptance where racial harmony was still unattainable. Smokey Robinson once said, “I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. . . I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. . . I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated.”
With Motown’s success, imitators began to arrive in Detroit to capture some of the magic. Berry Gordy knew that the Motown sound didn’t come from a place but from the artists who made the music. After all he had already open recording studios in New York, L.A., Chicago, and Nashville.