The Motown Timeline

1920s1930s1950s1960s1970s1980s2000s2010s

BERRY GORDY IS BORN

Berry Gordy, Jr. is born on November 28 in Detroit. Michigan to Bertha and Berry Gordy, Sr.

1929

JOE LOUIS VS. MAX SCHMELING

Gordy hears the Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling fight on the family radio. Louis’ victory sparks a passion within him to be special.

1938

Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man while riding a Montgomery, Alabama bus.

1954

Miracles

Berry Gordy meets Smokey Robinson and his group, the Matadors, in office of Jackie Wilson’s manager. Their name changed shortly after to the Miracles.

1957

JACKIE WILSON’S FIRST 5 SINGLES

Co-writes first of Jackie Wilson’s first 5 singles: “Reet Petite”, “Lonely Teardrops”, “To Be Loved”, “That’s Why I Love You So” and “I’ll Be Satisfied”.

1957

Gordy leases the first Miracles record

Gordy leases the first Miracles record, “Got A Job,” an answer song to the Silhouettes

#1 hit, “Get A Job,” to New York’s End label. It represents his first big foray into the record business.

1958

Royalty check for only $3.19

hitsville

Gordy receives a royalty check for only $3.19; decides to start his own company with the help of an $800 loan from the family co-op.

Gordy buys a building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard and calls it Hitsville, “a place where a kid off the street could walk in one door an unknown and go out another a star,” a concept he received from working on the assembly line, watching a bare metal frame come in one end and roll off the other end as a brand-spanking new car.

1959

“Way Over There” first national release

Way Over There” by the Miracles becomes Gordy’s first national release. More labels added: Motown, Gordy, Soul, V.I.P. “Motown” name was a contraction from name given to Detroit, “Motor City” and Gordy using “town” instead of “City.” Name then used to incorporate his company.

1960

Gordy signs a stable of artists

Gordy signs a stable of artists: The Marvelettes, The Supremes (formerly the Primettes), Marvin Gaye, Little Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.

1961

releases two albums

mlk

Gordy releases two albums of Dr. Martin Luther King’s speeches, “Great March to Washington” and “Great March to Freedom,” which included the inspiring, “I Have A Dream” sermon.

1963

Gladys Knight and the Pips

Gordy signs Gladys Knight and the Pips after seeing them perform at the Apollo Theatre, as well as the Isley Brothers, Tammi Terrell and the songwriting team of Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson. Motown has fourteen top ten singles this year, including “Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops second #1 written and produced by production team of Holland-Dozier- Holland. “Reach Out” is one of the most well-known Motown recordings of the 1960s and Motown’s second #1 in the U.K.

1966

The Supremes’ farewell performance

Berry Gordy & The Supremes

The Supremes’ farewell performance with Diana as the lead singer at the Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas. Jean Terrell, her replacement, is introduced. The “new” Supremes score a top ten hit with their first effort, “Up the Ladder to the Roof.” Diana’s debut solo single released, “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand),” only reaches #20 Pop, but is one of her most popular songs and concert favorite. Written and produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (a remake of Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s hit duet) is released on Diana, her first #1 as a solo artist, also written and produced by Ashford and Simpson “War” is released on Edwin Starr, written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and becomes one of the most popular anti-war protest songs ever recorded. Smokey Robinson & the Miracles’Tears of a Clown” reaches #1 pop. With release of “I’ll Be There,” the Jackson 5 became the first group in the history of the Billboard Hot 100 to have their first four singles go to number one, all co-written and co-produced by Gordy.

1970

The Commodores

Gordy signs the R&B group The Commodores, who become one of his biggest-selling groups of the seventies with their mix of R & B/country and romantic ballads mostly written by Lionel Richie. “Ben” becomes Michael Jackson’s first solo record to reach #1 with Motown, from the movie of the same name.

1972

Gordy resigns as president of Motown Records

Gordy resigns as president of Motown Records to assume leadership of Motown Industries, which includes film, TV, record and publishing divisions – he becomes Chairman of the Board.

Diana Ross’ “Touch Me In The Morning” released. Reaches #1 on the pop chart. Her second #1 as a solo artist.

Motown releases Stevie Wonder’s top-selling “Innervisions,” album wins six Grammys.

Marvin Gaye’sLet’s Get It On” reaches #1 and remains at the top of the singles charts for two weeks.

Smokey’s first solo effort released: “Sweet Harmony.”

1973

Gordy directs his second movie, Mahogany

Gordy directs his second movie, Mahogany, again starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams.

The Jackson 5 leave Motown, a year before contract is up; sign with CBS. Motown sues CBS.

Gordy Signs blue-eyed soul singer, Teena Marie.

1975

"Songs In The Key Of Life" Released

Stevie Wonder’s blockbuster album, “Songs in the Key of Life,” finally released, enters the Billboard Pop charts its very first week at #1, making Stevie the first American artist to do so and wins five more Grammys.

With release of Thelma Houston’s #1 Billboard Pop Single, “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” Motown enters the disco arena. Wins Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance-Female.

1976

Motown Has 3 Pop Hits

The company has three #1 pop hits this year, including Marvin Gaye’s “Got to Give It Up,” Stevie’s “Sir Duke” and “I Wish.”

Motown signs punkfunker, Rick James.

1977

The Commodores release, “Three Times a Lady”

The Commodores release, “Three Times a Lady,” which spends two weeks at #1.

1978

Smokey Robinson Releases "Cruisin"

The Commodores’Still” is only #1 pop hit this year.

Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’” is released, his first top ten, sells over a million copies.

1979

Song For Martin Luther King Released

DIANA,” Diana Ross’ most successful selling album of her solo career, debuts on the Billboard Pop Album chart, peaks at #2.

Stevie Wonder’s album “Hotter Than July” is released. Album includes “Happy Birthday,” a song created to bring attention to his campaign for Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday to be declared a national holiday.

1980

Diana Ross Leaves Motown

Diana Ross leaves Motown and signs a 20 million dollar contract with RCA.

Smokey Robinson’s album, “Being With You” released; first top ten and biggest selling album of his solo career.

Rick James has a multimillion-selling album, “Street Songs,” which includes the hit singles, “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak.”

Square Biz” by Teena Marie released. Misses the Top 40, but hits #3 on the Billboard Black Singles chart.

1981

Marvin Gaye Leaves Motown

Marvin Gaye leaves Motown and signs with Columbia.

Lionel Richie leaves The Commodores to pursue a solo career on Motown. His self-titled debut album sells over four million copies and produces three top ten hits, including the #1 single, “Truly.”

1982

Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever is Released

Suzanne de Passe, president of Motown Productions, Inc., produces Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever, the TV show commemorating Motown’s silver anniversary. Nominated for nine Emmy Awards, wins Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy.

Motown signs a distribution deal with MCA Records, ending years of being distributed independently.

1983

Marvin Gaye Dies

Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called to Say I Love You” is released, a multimillion selling single from the movie A Woman In Red. Wonder wins an Oscar for Best Original Song.

Marvin Gaye dies from a gunshot wound inflicted by his own father.

1984

Motown History Museum Opens

Esther Gordy Edwards, Gordy’s sister, opens the Motown Historical Museum inside the restored Hitsville building and offers tours.

1985

Hall of Fame

Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1987

Gordy Sells Motown

Gordy sells Motown to MCA, Inc. and Boston Ventures for $61 million.

1988

50th Anniversary

The year of Motown’s 50th Anniversary

2009

Musical Opens on Broadway

Motown opens on Broadway, embarking on a USA tour the following year

2013

Musical Opens in London

Motown the Musical opens in London

2016

 

 

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