Cleveland, OH (December 19, 2008) - The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum will launch the new year celebrating the golden anniversary of Motown’s contribution to the world with its newest exhibit MOTOWN: The Sound of Young America Turns 50. The Motown exhibit will open January 1, 2009, in the Museum’s Ahmet M. Ertegun Main Exhibit Hall.
In an incredibly short amount of time, the Motown label produced 14 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees (list appears below). The Motown exhibit features instruments, clothing, programs, posters, sheet music, original music scores, contracts, recordings and more. Items from Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, the Four Tops, the Temptations, the Jackson 5, Rick James, Martha and the Vandellas and many others will be featured.
“While Motown was lauded as ‘The Sound of Young America,’ it was actually the sound of all of America and a good portion of the world,” said Howard Kramer, director of curatorial affairs for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Featured collections pieces include:
• Stevie Wonder’s glasses and Superbowl 1999 “African American” outfit
• “Red Hot,” an outfit worn by Mary Wilson of the Supremes on the Ed Sullivan Show
• James Jamerson’s upright bass played on all of his Motown recording sessions until 1963
• A graphic representation of all of the Motown family of labels
Berry Gordy founded and presided over the Motown musical empire. As a young African-American man working in a challenging environment, Gordy reached across the racial divide with music that touched all people, regardless of the color of their skin. Motown became a model of black capitalism, pride and self-expression and a repository for some of the greatest talent ever assembled at one company. The list of artists who were discovered and thrived at Motown includes the Supremes, Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5 and Martha and the Vandellas. But the artists alone were not the whole story by any means.
Motown’s staff songwriting and production teams (e.g., Holland-Dozier-Holland) and in-house musicians (including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees Benny Benjamin (drummer) and James Jamerson (bassist) as well as bandleader/keyboardist Earl Van Dyke) contributed immeasurably to the Motown sound. The idea of a self-contained operation exuding soul from its every pore was all part of Gordy’s grand design.
The rags-to-riches story began in Detroit’s inner city, where Gordy, born in 1929 as the son of a plastering contractor, dreamed of making his mark on the world. Stints in the army, as a boxer and a record-store manager preceded his entree into the creative and entrepreneurial side of the music business. In the mid-Fifties, Gordy began writing songs for local R&B acts and quickly acquired a local reputation as a songwriter, producer and hustler. His first break came in 1957, when Brunswick Records purchased his composition “Reet Petite” for Jackie Wilson. In 1959, Gordy ventured into independent production with singer Marv Johnson, enjoying a few modest hits such as “Come to Me.” In 1960, Gordy leased another hit single - “Money,” by Barrett Strong - to Anna Records, a label owned by his sister. He then launched his own company: Tammie Records, which was changed to Tamla and eventually joined by the Gordy, Soul and Motown imprints. He ran his business from a house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit that Gordy dubbed “Hitsville U.S.A.”
The first hit of any size for the fledgling company belonged to the Miracles, a vocal group led by Smokey Robinson. “Way Over There,” released on Tamla in 1960, sold a respectable 60,000 copies. Its followup, “Shop Around,” reached Number Two on the pop charts and launched Motown into the national market. Overseeing the whole operation from its founding in 1959 to its sale in 1988 was Berry, who insured that Motown’s stable of singers, songwriters, producers and musicians took the concept of simple, catchy pop songs to a whole new level of sophistication and, thanks to the music’s roots in gospel and blues, visceral intensity. At Motown, notions of “formula” were transformed into works of art in the hands of singers like Marvin Gaye, Mary Wells, Smokey Robinson, Levi Stubbs (of the Four Tops), David Ruffin, Dennis Edwards and Eddie Kendricks (of the Temptations), Diana Ross, Martha Reeves and Stevie Wonder.
Gordy touted Motown as “the Sound of Young America.” Its roots may have been in gospel and blues, but its image was one of upward mobility and good, clean fun. At Gordy’s insistence, Motown’s men and women of soul attended in-house finishing school, where they learned how to comport themselves onstage and in social situations. Gordy, by all accounts a stern taskmaster, instituted an internal program of “quality control,” including weekly product evaluation meetings, that he modeled after Detroit’s auto-making plants. At the same time, the working environment was sufficiently loose and freewheeling to foster creativity. In Gordy’s words, “Hitsville had an atmosphere that allowed people to experiment creatively and gave them the courage not to be afraid to make mistakes.”
Motown generated literally hundreds of hit singles, but one statistic bears especially eloquent testimony to Motown’s success. In 1966, the company’s “hit ratio” - the percentage of records released that made the national charts - was 75%, an awesome figure. In its Sixties heyday, Motown’s parade of hits revolutionized American popular music. After Motown, black popular music would never again be dismissed as a minority taste. For more than a decade, Berry Gordy and his talented team translated a black idiom into the Sound of Young America. Aesthetically and commercially, Motown’s achievements will likely remain unrivaled.
About the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is the nonprofit organization that exists to educate visitors, fans and scholars from around the world about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music. It carries out this mission both through its operation of a world-class museum that collects, preserves, exhibits and interprets this art form and through its library and archives as well as its educational programs.
The Museum is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. On Wednesdays the Museum is open until 9 p.m. Museum admission is $22 for adults, $17 for seniors (60+), $13 for children (9-12) and children under 8 and Museum members are free. When you become a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the world of rock and roll becomes yours to explore. Call 216.515.1939 for information on becoming a member. For general inquiries, please call 216.781.ROCK.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees Produced by the Motown Record Label
The Four Tops
The Jackson Five
Gladys Knight and the Pips
Martha and the Vandellas
Berry Gordy, Jr.