Why Motown Records Was One Of The Nation's Most Successful Labels

picture of berry gordy museum
Shiavon Chatman
November 29, 2021

During the 1950s, the music scene was extremely segregated. Berry Gordy was a young Black man with a dream, who was determined to implement change. He wanted to help Black artists break into the mainstream music scene. 

But many today are quick to criticize how he went about it.

Gordy’s vision required him to navigate through a very racist music industry. Spurned by the mainstream, he established an independent label – Motown.

But he knew the big labels and radio stations weren’t going to just let him break in. So he made a few compromises.

If Motown was going to break through to listeners across America – and really give Black artists a chance at fame and stardom – he had to play the game. One of the ways he did so? Hiring an all-white marketing team.

With mainstream success as his first priority, he continued to make interesting decisions. Gordy initially refused to release the legendary Marvin Gaye hit “What’s Goin’ On,” for example, because he thought its political message could alienate white listeners. 

But, he was eventually persuaded by Gaye – and proven wrong.

Gordy’s legacy is very complex, but he did what he felt he needed to do to see his vision succeed. We should always fight for what we believe in, and achieve our dreams by any means necessary!

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