Motown and the success of Black Americans are synonymous in my mind. I grew up in the 70s in Detroit just walking distance from Hitsville, the headquarters of Motown Records, which is now the site of the Motown Museum. Motown was, in my young imagination, the working man's version of Hollywood.
My city's music was the soundtrack to the Civil Rights movement and unified the world in way no other music ever had before. 1967's number one hit "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Marvin Gaye and The Supremes, a Motown anthem that blared from houses and cars from my earliest childhood memories, assured me that true power could be attained through elegance and beauty. Motown was a language of its own. I owe my hometown credit for the song in my heart, and for the fact that it inspires me do what I love everyday.
Morgan Debaun, the co-founder and CEO of Blavity, a website created by and for Black millennials, also draws inspiration from Motown. She says: “No matter how many years, or even decades that pass, 'What's Going On' continues to be a reminder to us all to continuously question the world around us, and work towards improved conditions, not just for ourselves and our loved ones, but also for our neighbors."
How did the magic of Motown Records begin? In 1959, a Detroit auto worker named Berry Gordy saw a need for “product inclusion” in the American recording industry at the time: a Black-owned music company, which would focus on Black music. So he created one.
He borrowed $800 from his family’s “lending club” to start a record label, in his home in Detroit. Motown Records launched the careers of Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson (who also was the company’s VP).
In 1988, after selling multiple millions of records, earning numerous industry awards, and changing music forever, Berry sold his startup for $61 million.
Nearly 60 years since its founding, the music of Motown Records continues to inspire people from a variety of generations and across many communities, both within Detroit and internationally. Former President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle danced to “You & I” by Stevie Wonder at their wedding; In an interview with Hypebeast, Kanye West has said his "favorite record label of all time is Motown”. And a variety of contemporary artists have sampled Motown music.
Words by Veronica Webb – the first Black model to receive a multi-year cosmetics contract in the 1980s, and now Fashion and Beauty Editor of The Glow Up.
In honor of Black History Month, we reached out to leaders in the fields of sports, business, and fashion to create a YouTube Playlist of their favorite songs (including Veronica's above). Think of it as a soundtrack for for celebrating Black History– for any month of the year.
LeBron James: Professional basketball player for the Cleveland Cavaliers
Lebron’s go to Motown song is “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
Bethann Hardison: Former fashion model and the founder of the Diversity Coalition
Bethann’s go to Motown song is “HeatWave” by Martha and Vandellas.
Van Jones: CNN political contributor and host of the recurring CNN Show, The Van Jones Show
Van’s go to Motown song is “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
Mellody Hobson: President of Ariel Investments
Mellody’s go to Motown song is “I Hear a Symphony” by Diana Ross and the Supremes.
Patti LaBelle: Grammy Award winning recording artist
Patti’s go to Motown song is "Tracks of My Tears" by Smokey Robinson and The Miracles.
Morgan Debaun: Co-founder and CEO of Blavity
Morgan’s go to Motown song is also "What's Going On" by Marvin Gaye.
KJ Miller and Amanda Johnson: Co-founders of Mented Cosmetics and the 15th and 16th Black women to raise $1 Million in Capital
KJ and Amanda’s go to Motown song is “Stop In The Name of Love” by The Supremes.
"The Supremes challenged patriarchal norms by unapologetically demanding what they wanted from the world. Their determination inspires us to always ask for what we're worth and not accept less."
Listen to this inspiring Motown playlist in full here.
For resources, content, and programs dedicated to communities underrepresented online, visit Accelerate.WithGoogle.com.
Interested in sharing your favorite Motown Song? Tag us @Googleart #googlearts.