Saturday, October 10, 2009

Motown's Legacy to American Music

By Christina Pomoni

Berry Gordy's renowned Motown Records emerged in the 1960s as an overwhelming force of social and cultural change making its mark not only on the music industry, but on society at large. Featuring a distinctive soul sound, full of energy and emotion, Motown has become one of the most important musical undertakings and spectacular success stories of the 20th century.

Explaining the Motown Sound like any musical phenomenon is an intricate task, for the most part, because it can hardly be taken as accidental. Motown emerged at the heart of American industry, where, for the first time, a generation of young black people were prosperous enough and had the leisure time to go along with it. Besides, it emerged at a time when the mass struggle for civil rights and social and racial equality had a profound impact on youth.

Besides, Motown was the product of the glory days of independent record labels. In the 1950s, Capitol Records and Columbia Records almost disregarded the emerging sounds of rock and roll. But Motown focused on R&B, blues, and rock and roll and produced a blend of upbeat music that seemed to eliminate color lines with its colorless culture.

Motown's historical value stands for more than its outstanding music. The label and its incredible legacy is a manifestation of the hard work of dedicated individuals overcoming implausible obstacles to achieve great success. On January 12, 1959, Berry Gordy Jr., an African-American songwriter, former professional boxer, Korean War veteran and automobile worker, founded Tamla Records with a family loan of $800 marking the birth of the Motown Records Corporation. A visionary and talented individual, an insightful leader and a determined entrepreneur, Berry Gordy assembled a group of remarkable African-American artists, musicians, composers and songwriters and gave to the world a brand new sound.

Motown's phenomenal success is a tribute to all that Berry Gordy symbolizes and all the talent that he brought out in others. His efficiency in the mass-production of smash hits is often compared to Ford Wayne's Assembly Plant production methods. As the plant cars started out as frames and transformed into sparkling, brand new cars, unknown kids walked in the Motown's door and came out as recording artists. Under his leadership and guidance, and through willpower and support of the Motown family of artists, Gordy shaped new grounds for minorities and made the "Motown Sound" a global phenomenon dearly-loved by millions.

Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson Five, The Temptations, The Four Tops, The Commodores, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes, their music communicated and united a racially divided nation and isolated society, around the world, having a huge appeal on all people of all ages and race. No other record label in the history of music has put forth such a massive influence on both the style and essence of popular music and culture. Besides, with more than 180 number one hits worldwide, Motown's influence is still being felt today around the globe.

Motown became a state of mind, a lifestyle, the 'Sound of Young America'. The unique, upbeat music, a blend of soul and pop, black and white, old and young, ignored any racial or social background and became the heartbeat of American pop music. Gordy broke down barriers by having pop radio promote Motown artists, booking his artists on popular TV shows and fascinating national audiences with repeat performances. Besides, Diana Ross and The Supremes was the first R&B group to play on 'Copacabana', New York's most prestigious night club, an event that opened the way for other R&B groups into the top cabaret circuits worldwide.

Today, Motown remains a symbol of unity for the black communities. Gordy bridged the gap of racial discrimination and integrated the black culture into white society by producing music that touched all people, regardless of the color of their skin, making Motown a vehicle of black pride and self-expression. After Motown, black music has never been regarded as a minority taste. Instead, it has been unequaled and relentless. And this is, admittedly, Motown's greatest legacy for the black people and for our world.

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