motown - Emerson PTA

5Th grade
A brief history of the emergence of “Motown Music” in the 1960s.
CD/player and disc
Photos (see below – share with class on Elmo)
Ideally show some video of these acts from youtube
How many of you have ever seen a record? Records were discs made out of a material
named vinyl, and they contained music in a long groove that ran throughout the disc. The
records were then spun on a turntable, and a special needle was placed on the groove to “read”
music (Show examples if possible). At the center of the record was a record label that told you
the recording company name, the artist, and the name of the album, the songs, etc. The phrase
“record label” eventually came to mean the name of the recording company. Today we are
going to talk about one of these record labels, called Motown Records, a huge hit-producing
company especially in the 1960s.
Motown Records was founded by a man named Berry Gordy in Detroit, MI in 1960. The
name “Motown” was taken from Detroit’s nickname of “Motor Town” because of the auto
manufacturers in Detroit. Eventually, the word Motown came to be known not only as a record
company, but also to the style of music that came from that record company. We’ll listen to a lot
of examples of this music today.
Berry Gordy had a talent for finding incredible songwriters, producers, and musicians.
From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits from a lot of artists you may have heard of,
including Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey
Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandelles and The Jackson 5.
Here is how it all began…
Smokey Robinson
A singer and songwriter named Smokey Robinson convinced Berry Gordy to distribute
his own records. In 1960, Berry Gordy co-wrote and distributed “Shop Around” by Smokey
Robinson and the Miracles which became a hit. Smokey Robinson became a very important
part of song writing and production at Motown records. His group The Miracles was responsible
for establishing the sound of Motown music. The song “Tears of a Clown” was their biggest hit
ever, co-written by another important musician, Stevie Wonder, who we’ll hear from later. Let’s
PLAY part of CD TRACK 1 – Tears of a Clown by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
The Ladies of Motown
Berry Gordy put a lot of effort into developing what was then called “girl groups,” which
were becoming very popular. One of these groups was Martha and the Vandellas, headed by
lead singer Martha Reeves. In 1961, Reeves was hired as a secretary at Motown Records and, a
few years later convinced Berry Gordy to let her start recording songs. Two of the more famous
songs by Martha and the Vandelles were “Heat Wave” and the one we’ll hear now, called
“Dancing in the Street,” a song that has been re-recorded many times by other artists.
PLAY part of CD TRACK 2 – Dancing in the Street, Martha and the Vandelles
Another girl group was The Marvelettes, who had Motown’s first #1 hit in 1961.
PLAY part of CD TRACK 3 – Please, Mr. Postman by the Marvelettes
In 1959, four teenage girls auditioned for Smokey Robinson in the hopes of getting to
Berry Gordy. The audition didn’t go very well and Smokey Robinson told them to come back
after they all finished high school. Instead of listening though, the girls started hanging out in
the reception room of Motown records, so much so that they were even eventually allowed to
sing backup for a few songs. Another year later, Berry Gordy called them The Supremes, with
Diana Ross as the lead singer (note: if any of you have seen the movie “Dream Girls,” this is
based largely on The Supremes).
Over the next several years the group had 12 #1 hits, even rivaling the success of The
Beatles. Songs included “Baby Love,” “Stop in the Name of Love,” “Where did our Love Go?”
and the song you’ll hear now, entitled “You Can’t Hurry Love.” (do you notice a theme?)
PLAY part of CD TRACK 4 – You Can’t Hurry Love, The Supremes
After a few years of running his record company, Berry Gordy became very good at
polishing the Motown acts. The performances included choreographed dances. The music itself
was a mixture of Pop, Rhythm and Blues and Gospel that appealed to the general public, both
white and black, young and old. As Berry Gordy developed the musical styles of his acts, he
found some things that he carried from one group to the next, which is how Motown came to
have its own sound. He favored a distinct musical sound with a pounding rhythm section that
was enhanced by horns, tambourines and back-up singing to a lead singer. Berry Gordy also
assembled one of the most famous songwriting and production trios in music history, HollandDozier-Holland. Brothers Brian and Eddie Holland, along with Lamont Dozier, wrote and
produced countless songs for the Motown groups, including many of the songs you’ll hear today.
The Temptations:
After Berry Gordy had established the type of music he knew would appeal to everyone
and therefore sell well, he continued to churn out one famous group after another. The
Temptations were one of these groups. These five men became one of the most commercially
successful and critically acclaimed male vocal groups in the 1960s and the early 70s and
continued to have hits even through the 80s. Here is one of their big hits you might have heard
called “My Girl”.
PLAY part of TRACK 5 – My Girl by The Temptations
Marvin Gaye:
Not all of Motown’s acts were groups. A Famous solo artist named Marvin Gaye also
took Motown by storm. Marvin’s father was a preacher who had him singing in the church
choir. When he was eighteen years old, Marvin formed his own group and moved to Detroit. He
met Berry Gordy and started working for him as a drummer, playing on the early hits by Smokey
Robinson and the Miracles. His biggest hit as a singer was one you might know:
PLAY part of TRACK 6 – I Heard it through the Grapevine by Marvin Gaye.
The Jackson 5:
The Jackson 5 was a group of young brothers (Jermaine, Tito, Jackie, Marlon and
Michael) from Gary, Indiana. They signed with Motown Records in 1969 and released the hits
“I Want You Back”, “Dancing Machine”, “I’ll Be There” and “ABC”. Michael Jackson, the
youngest of the brothers, was the lead singer. He eventually began a solo career and became a
huge sensation in the 80s and 90s. Here is the Jackson 5’s #1 song from back in April 1970,
entitled “ABC”.
PLAY (or watch on You Tube) part of TRACK 7 – ABC
Stevie Wonder:
Stevie Wonder was another child sensation, a blind keyboard player who had many hits
in the 60s, including this one.
PLAY part of TRACK 8 – Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours) by Stevie Wonder
Stevie Wonder went on to have a huge career even after he left Motown, winning over 25
Grammy awards.
There are many, many other Motown groups that helped shape modern music. The
Ronettes, The Marvelettes, Gladys Knight and the Pips (another You Tube clip if you like), to name just a few. Hopefully you got a small taste
today of the of the history and sound of Motown music. Thanks to Berry Gordy and his decision
to start a record company over forty years ago, we are able to enjoy Motown’s distinctive style.
Berry Gordy
Smokey Robinson
Martha and the Vandelles
The Supremes
The Temptations
Marvin Gaye
The Jackson Five
Stevie Wonder