Whether it was the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, anti-war protests, riots after the untimely death of iconic figures, it was music that set the mood of our people and indeed the country and world.
Music calmed anxieties and eased some pain. Marvin Gaye’s, Ecology Song (Mercy Mercy Me), a prayer for the land and air, man’s dominion. Marvin knew we had abused the earth, he said it in a song. Edwin Starr didn’t mince words “War What is it Good For?” The sound of the times. Cool beats, serious lyrics that said how you felt, peppered with a new rhythm. Some could say that was what Soul Music was and is today.
The Great Migration contributed to the economic growth of America and as far as music is concerned changed things forever. Nearly 6 Million Blacks had moved from the oppressive South, Jim Crow Laws, and in many cases sharecropper lives. Trading a life of despair and hopelessness for perhaps a factory job, a college degree, or a chance at better education opportunities for their children. B.B King, the King of Blues singing “Don”t Look Down”, or maybe Chuck Berry, arguably the creator of Rock and Roll, duck walking to “Roll Over Beethoven” or Maybellene”, The sound of the times. The late 1950’s and early 1960’s was when black folks merged life’s struggles with new found opportunities. A new day.
The migration of so many to the east, mid-west and western parts of the United States from the deep south, changed the “flavor” of the country for ever. From 1910 to 1930, the first migration and then during the Great Depression and before World War II, the second migration from 1940 to 1970, Black Americans settled in large cities like New York, Philadelphia, Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, and Los Angeles. The influx of so many eager workers was not always welcomed.
“Maybellene, why can’t you be true
Oh Maybellene, why can’t you be true
You’ve started back doin’ the things you used to do”
Take the Riot of East St Louis in 1917, when whites killed hundreds of blacks. The fear of competition for the new jobs, whites challenged the need of new factories with the influx of migrating blacks. Second class economic status for blacks in many of these areas have yet to abate. Music helped ease the pain. The riots, Klan membership, the resistance to fair housing and protection of the civil rights of blacks hasn’t subsided, and continues to deine our nation. An affront to the class system, and the stresses of economic survival also continue to add stress to the children of those migrating blacks.
Of course the sounds of despair, a longing for back home and the growth of a new life. Coupled with optimism and determination, fueled by an innovative spirit, music changed lives. As ususal, Black folks built on life experiences and told stories in song. Musical talents emerged, voices stretched the bounds of what was not thought of or heard by a nation bending to adapt to change. The children of farmers of the Mississippi Delta now in Detroit and the sharecroppers in rural Georgia relocating to Chicago, the Blues singer mourned of a simpler time void of the city stresses and loved ones left behind. Jazz did its part to left spirits and showcase the talents of artists that perfected another original American sound.
The sound of the times. It was Motown. Berry Gordy the founder of Motown, was the architect that helped develop that sound. Gordy was the embodiment of the sound meeting the Great Migration. Berry Gordy’s grandfather was part of the migration, a Gerogia native. Berry Gordy created “Hitsville USA”.
The southern connection is to President Jimmy Carter a Georgia native through his mother, Miss Lillian, the grand daughter of Jack Gordy. Miss Lillian Gordy Carter and Berry Gordy are not too distant cousins. Making the 39th President of the United States and the founder of Motown cousins.
Born in 1929, Berry Gordy, Jr. was the seventh of eight children. He tried many careers; boxing, record store ownership, assembly line worker and a tour in the U. S. Army during the Korean War. It was the entertainment industry that proved to be Gordy’s niche. Found in 1959, the Motown Record Corporation, created the sounds that defined those moments. Irresistible combinations of great lyrics, soulful vocals and heart pumping rhythms forced social and cultural change. Berry Gordy’s and Motown made history not just on the music industry, but in society at large. Diana Ross & the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson & the Jackson 5, The Marvelettes, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Lionel Richie & the Commodores, Teena Marie, their music was the communication of a racially divided country. Segregated society seemed less divisive when the Motown sound was around.
June is Black Music Appreciation Month. First commemorated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. Since 2009, President Barack Obama has decreed the month of June as African American Music Month. The Sound of The Times, still a vital part of our lives. The 1960’s and 70’s would not have been the same without Motown. Those “Songs in the Key of Life”, seems to say it all.
The Motown - Quiz
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10 Questions about Motown Record Corporation & Artists
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Question 1 of 10
In what year and month was the Motown Record Corporation incorporated?Correct
Question 2 of 10
In what year did Motown officially move to Los Angeles, California?Correct
Question 3 of 10
Who was the child prodigy that signed with Motown’s Tamla label when he was only 11 years old?Correct
Question 4 of 10
Which one of the following singers was not a Motown act?Correct
Question 5 of 10
The Motown headquarters with the studio located in the garage was a white frame house located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard. It had a sign over the front door calling the location ____________ .Correct
Question 6 of 10
This group from Atlanta, Georgia signed with Motown in 1966. The lead singer a woman joined with her brother and two cousins as back up singers. Won multiple Grammy and has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. What group is this?Correct
Question 7 of 10
This singer songwriter, born in Washington, D.C., a Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee, recipient of a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, signed with Motown in 1960. He was fatally shot by his father on April 1, 1984.Correct
Question 8 of 10
What U. S. President is Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown, distantly related?Correct
President Carter’s mother Miss Lillian’s maiden name was Lillian Gordy. Berry’s grandfather was from small town Georgia.
Question 9 of 10
The hit song “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas released in July 1964, provoked questions by the British press of a hidden meaning in the song. The press insinuated the song hinted at ___________ , an idea dismissed by lead singer Martha ReevesCorrect
Question 10 of 10
Levi Stubbs, Renaldo Benson, Lawrence Peyton and Adbul Fakir sang first together in 1954. In 1964, at Motown, they hit success. The first hit was “Baby I Need Your Loving”. What’s the name of their group?Correct
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Leaderboard: The Motown - Quiz
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Through a series of stories recounting the lives and work of artists, groups and songs BlackHistory-101.com will commemorate Black Music Month.