Motown - History

History

Berry Gordy got his start as a songwriter for local Detroit acts such as Jackie Wilson and The Matadors. Wilson's single "Lonely Teardrops", written by Gordy, became a huge success; however, Gordy did not feel he made as much money as he deserved from this and other singles he wrote for Wilson. He realized that the more lucrative end of the business was in producing records and owning the publishing.

In 1959, Billy Davis and Berry Gordy's sisters Gwen and Anna started Anna Records. Davis and Gwen Gordy wanted Berry to be the company president, but Berry wanted to strike out on his own. On January 12, 1959, he started Tamla Records, with an $800 loan from his family and from royalties earned writing for Jackie Wilson. Gordy originally wanted to name the label "Tammy" Records, after the popular song by Debbie Reynolds from the 1957 film Tammy and the Bachelor also starring Reynolds. When he found the name was already in use, he decided on Tamla instead. Tamla's first release, in the Detroit area, was Marv Johnson's "Come to Me" in 1959 (released nationally on United Artists). Its first hit was Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" (1959), which made it to number 2 on the Billboard R&B charts (released nationally on Anna Records).

Gordy's first signed act was The Matadors, who changed their name to The Miracles when Gordy signed them. (They were not the Matadors who recorded for Sue.) Their first release, "Got a Job," was an answer record to the Silhouettes' "Get a Job (issued on George Goldner's End Records)." The Miracles' first, minor hit was their fourth single, 1959's "Bad Girl," released in Detroit as the debut record on the Motown imprint, and nationally on the Chess label. (Most early Motown singles were released through other labels, such as End, Fury, Gone and Chess.) Miracles lead singer William "Smokey" Robinson became the vice president of the company (and later named his daughter "Tamla" and his son "Berry" out of gratitude to Gordy and the label). Many of Gordy's family members, including his father Berry, Sr., brothers Robert and George, and sister Esther, were eventually given key roles in the company. By the middle of the decade, Gwen and Anna Gordy had joined the label in administrative positions as well.

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