- Motown music is from musicians who were signed under Motown Records.
- Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye all were signed under Motown Records.
- This is how they got their start and where they are now.
Although Motown has become a genre itself, true Motown music refers to the songs created and produced at Motown Records. Berry Gordy Jr. decided to turn Detroit, Michigan, or “motor town,” into Hitsville, U.S.A., the hot spot for up-and-coming musicians
These musicians have legacies that will outlive them forever. Find out where the best and biggest Motown stars are today.
Diana Ross, lead singer of The Supremes, fronted the most-successful “girl group” of all time.
The Supremes are ranked as Billboard’s greatest “girl group” of all time for creating 12 No. 1 hits from 1964-1970 such as “Stop! In the Name of Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Baby Love,” and “You Can’t Hurry Love.”
Their 1965 performance at the esteemed NYC nightclub, The Copacabana paved the way for other Motown groups to sing around the country.
In 1970, Diana Ross began a successful solo career with Motown Records starting her self-titled album (later released as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” She also began acting, and earned an Oscar nomination for her performance as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues.”
Her song “Upside Down” spent four weeks at No. 1.
Diana Ross is still touring and performing.
In 2019, she celebrated her 75th birthday with a performance at the Grammy Awards and a Las Vegas residency. On the actual date, March 26, nearly 700 theatres around the country will be showing “Diana Ross Live in Central Park.”
The popular Broadway musical, “Motown: The Musical” based on a book about Berry Gordy’s creation of Motown Records, featured Diana Ross as a character singing her original music. The romantic connection between Gordy and Ross is heavily featured in the musical.
She has five children including Tracee Ellis Ross, the lead actress in “Black-ish,” and Evan Ross, a singer, and actor who is married to Ashlee Simpson.
Smokey Robinson was one of the earliest members of Motown.
Smokey Robinson started with the band The Miracles and became known for his soulful voice and gold-green eyes. He helped produce 26 Top 40 hits for Motown Records, including several top 10 hits like “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “I Second That Emotion,” and “The Tears Of a Clown.”
Robinson was a prolific songwriter for The Miracles and other bands on the label, with over 4,000 writing credits to his name.
Smokey Robinson is still performing and has his own wine label.
He was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and recently had a Vegas residency in early 2019. His newest venture, Smokey Robinson Vineyards, sells vintage wines with grapes from California, Chile, and Italy.
The “Prince of Motown” was the mega-talented Marvin Gaye.
The session drummer-turned-singer Marvin Gaye gave Motown their biggest hit of the 1960s with 1968’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Hot off his success, in 1971 he wanted full control over his next album.
Berry Gordy reported said that he thought “What’s Going On” was “the worst song he had ever heard,” but Gaye argued that he would never record with Motown again unless the song was released as a single.
It became a huge hit, and the Vietnam protest album, “What’s Going On,” is largely regarded as one of the best albums of all time.
Marvin Gaye gained a posthumous induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
Gaye’s legendary music has been sampled or honored in music by artists such as Elton John, Diana Ross, Thomas Rhett, 2Pac, The Avett Brothers, Tyler, the Creator, and Hozier.
The Temptations racked up 15 top-10 hits.
These “Emperors of Soul” were made up of two Detroit-based vocal harmony groups that formed the legendary R&B group. They exploded in popularity when 1965’s “My Girl” hit the charts.
Written by Smokey Robinson and Ronald White, the tune made its way to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and cemented them as a chart-topper. They dominated the decades with big hits like “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” and “I Can’t Get Next To You.” They received another burst of popularity when “My Girl” was used in the 1991 film of the same name.
There’s a new line-up, but The Temptations are still making music.
The group received the Grammy lifetime achievement award in 2013.
In 2018, the Temptations put out a covers album called “All The Time,” though the group has some different members. Otis Williams is the only member of “the Classic Five” that survives.
Stevie Wonder grew up surrounded by Motown artists.
The singer, pianist, drummer, and harmonica player who is blind was signed to a Motown label when he just 11 years old.
Ronnie White from The Miracles got him an audition, and Little Stevie Wonder took off. He toured with the Motortown Revue as a 12-year-old, and in the 1970s began releasing the albums that made him an icon.
1972’s “Talking Book” featured “Superstition” and “You are the Sunshine of My Life.” He released four more albums in the ’70s including “Songs in the Key of Life.”
Stevie Wonder went on to win 25 Grammy awards and still performs.
The record-winning 68-year-old went on tour in 2014 to play “Songs in the Key of Life,” his most-successful album and regarded as one of the greatest of all time. He’s a recipient of the highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Barack Obama.
He has nine children, is an outspoken supporter of veganism, and recently performed at Aretha Franklin’s funeral tribute in 2018.
The Four Tops had some of the most iconic Motown songs.
Led by Levi Stubbs, the quartet was signed to Motown in 1963, and released “Baby I Need Your Loving” in the fall of 1964 to huge success. Songs like “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” and “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” became their standards and they achieved global recognition with help from the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein.
The line-up stayed the same for 43 years.
After 43 years of playing together, in 1997, member Lawrence Payton died. The group played as a trio for a while until they added Theo Peoples of the Temptations, according to AP.
Gladys Knight and The Pips was a family affair.
The group was signed to Motown in 1966 and eventually struck gold with songwriter Norman Whitfield’s “I Heard It Through The Grapevine.” It became the group’s biggest song of their early career, earning a No. 2 spot on the pop charts.
The group also earned three Grammys in 1973 and 1988.
Today, Gladys Knight is a singing legend and the group is iconic.
They were prevented from working together in the late ’70s because of legal issues, but reunited before splitting for good in 1989 as Knight pursued a solo career. In 1986, Knight appeared on the hit single benefiting the American Foundation for AIDS Research “That’s What Friends Are For,” along with Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, and Elton John.
She went on to have huge solo success, including recording the titular song for the James Bond film “Licence to Kill” and the hit song “Men.”
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