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How Motown Owned the 1960s: The Impact the Civil Rights Movement had on the Motown Recording


Eric Lanter

Senior Thesis in History California State Polytechnic University, Pomona June 2012

Advisor: Grade:

Dr. Eileen Wallis

Introduction The Civil Rights Movement was among the most iconic events in twentieth century America. Events like the March for Freedom and people like Martin Luther King Jr., with his “I Have a Dream Speech,” left a permanent memory in many American‟s minds. The immense popularity of the Civil Rights Movement overshadowed other aspects that lacked scholarly research. One such aspect was the effect it had on music at the time. The Movement influenced the music industry greatly, and helped, more than any other, the Motown Recording Company, which was the biggest African American owned corporation in the 1960s.1 It is important to see how and why the first popular African American record company became as wildly popular in a White business as it fits within America‟s history of racism. It is an important and specific example of the wide influence of the Civil Rights Movement and how it influenced 1960‟s music and changed the success of African American musical artists. Motown existed because of Berry Gordy Jr„s vision, he created the Detroit based company in the late 1950s when he chose music over boxing. He approached Motown with an assembly line technique of making music, similar to how Ford famously did in his factories, which Gordy worked in.2 Gordy only wanted talent from Detroit, while it was not successful immediately, he eventually produced stars like The Temptations, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. While Motown still exists today, the time frame concentrated on will be from the start of the company in the late 1950s through the early 1970s with the middle of the 1960s being the main focus. This paper proves that the


Nelson George, Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise & Fall of the Motown Sound (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007), 58. 2 Berry Gordy To Be Loved: The music, the magic, the memories of Motown (New York: Headline, 1994), 50-68. 1

changing times allowed Motown‟s artists to flourish. Motown was not just another popular record company. It had great success following a poor history of successful African American musicians. Motown‟s music helped define a generation; its popularity was among the biggest in music history. The lyrics and music of recent musical artists displays the influence of Motown in recent times.3 The music on Motown Records was good, but it was the strong emergence of the Civil Rights Movement allowed Motown to reach colossal heights stretching its impact to far reaching parts of the world. The seven and a half million records sold abroad in 1975, or forty percent of the company‟s revenue, proved the company‟s immense popularity.4 The peak of the Civil Rights Movement and popularity of Motown happened concurrently. This showed how the Civil Rights influenced Motown. Their hits became more frequent after the Civil Rights Act of 1964 went through congress. This was just one example of many that exhibited how Motown benefited from the Civil Rights Movement. Evidence revealed the link that clearly existed between Motown‟s success and the success of the Civil Rights Movement. Large sales and popular songs showed a change of interest in music despite prevalent racism. By comparing the success of Motown artists to artists before the Civil Rights Movement, one can see a great amount about the situation of African American musicians. This paper is not about popular culture, but rather how popular culture is a tool to see the more subtle, yet important changes of the past. The increasing popularity of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 1960s, allowed African American musical artists to become enormously popular. With this increased recognition, the Motown Record Company became an unprecedented success for African

Derrick P. Alridge, “From Civil Rights to Hip Hop: Toward a Nexus of Ideas,” The Journal of African American History 90, No. 3 (Summer, 2005): 233. 4 George, 73. 2

Americans, which showed how music in America was changing.


Historiography The secondary sources on the impact of the Civil Rights Movement on the Motown Recording Company were surprisingly scarce. While there were many books on Motown, most of them discussed the history of the company or specific artists and their popularity. The scholarly work that pertained to Motown was limited, with only a few quality sources.5 Of these, only some wrote directly about Civil Rights and how it related to Motown. Other sources had a different overall argument in their writing, but still contributed to the topic throughout their writings. There were more sources coming from articles rather than books, as many music or African American Journals had great articles that dealt with Civil Rights and music. Although the scarcity in books also related to the articles, they still contained good information. The primary book that wrote about the Civil Rights Movement and Motown was Suzanne Smith‟s Dancing in the Streets, published in 1999. She wrote about the actual connection that the music and the people had during these troubling times. A specific example that exemplified this was Motown‟s role in the Detroit City Riots.6 While this was a great book about Motown‟s connection with the culture and people of the Civil Rights Movement, it concentrated on Detroit itself and how Motown was important to the city. She also focused on how the city of Detroit, was during the 1960s and about the workers there. Smith stated that Motown is one of the major factors of what made Detroit, “Detroit,” back then.7 With newspaper articles and accounts of protests, she showed how this connection was explicit. This book showed that there was without a doubt a connection

Robert Fink, “Goal-Directed Soul? Analyzing Rhythmic Teleology in African American Popular Music,” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64, no.1 (Spring 2011): 180. 6 Suzanne E. Smith, Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit (London: Harvard University Press, 1999), 1-20. 7 Smith, 8-9. 4

between with Civil Rights Movement and Motown‟s music. With the lack of good secondary sources, Dancing in the Streets was the best source despite its flaws for the topic of this paper. The book concentrated more on Detroit as a city and how Motown played a part in the city. Within this larger point Smith discussed how the Civil Rights Movement influenced Motown in a positive way. Despite this lack of concentration Smith, sill gave great information on what Motown was able to accomplish within the context of the Civil Rights Movement. These problems explained are not a criticism of the book, but rather an example how there is no one true book on this subject. Books with larger themes expressed aspects of the Civil Rights Movement that affected Motown‟s success. The best examples of these were David P. Szatmary‟s 2004 book Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock-And-Roll and a 2006 compilation edited by Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby titled African American Music. The former book was a general history of Rock and Roll music and the latter was a broad overview of all African American music. In each book there is a section pertaining to Motown specifically. Szatmary noted that it was not only the Civil Rights Movement, but also the way Motown treated their artists, requiring that they should dress and act well, which helped the company succeed.8 Appearance alone was not enough, the Civil Rights Movement was paramount, and Gordy knew this, he supported Martin Luther King Jr. and the Movement, even though he was not a vocal participant. In African American Music, the chapter “Profile of Record Labels” had one section dedicated entirely to Motown. This section, written by Charles Sykes, stated that racial pride was a part of Motown‟s success


David P. Szatmary, Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock-And-Roll. 5th ed. (Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004), 136. 5

and that Gordy helped overcome racists in the industry.9 It was with this and Gordy‟s determination to reach a White audience that allowed Motown to become a huge success. This was as specific as these books delved into the Civil Rights Movement, they showed how Civil Rights was important enough to effect Motown, but it was not the concentrated focus of any books in a major way. Other sources mentioned ways in which Motown was revolutionary in its popularity, but did not mention the Civil Rights movement much, if at all. John Fitzgerald gave a great example of this in his 1994 article “Motown Crossover Hits 1963-1966 and the Creative Process” out of the journal Popular Music. The argument was that Motown would have been impossible just a few years earlier and that White audiences were truly connecting with African American musicians for the first time.10 He wrote more extensively to the point of Motown not getting the scholarly attention that it deserved, even from scholars concentrating on African-American music.11 This was a somewhat recurring theme as it was also seen in Robert Fink‟s 2011 article “Goal-Directed Soul? Analyzing Rhythmic Teleology in African American Popular Music.” He stated that “…the history of Motown is largely unwritten”12 While this article was more about the music itself, it is substantial enough to note that Fink found lack of scholarly work on Motown important enough that he still addressed it. He did so because he saw the importance of Motown as an African American company. There were also a couple of articles that dealt with Civil Rights and soul music but did not mention Motown specifically. James B. Stewart‟s 2005 article “Message in the

Charles Sykes, “Profiles of Record Labels,” in African American Music: An Introduction, ed. Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby (New York: Routledge, 2006), 431-52. 10 John Fitzgerald, “Motown Crossover Hits 1963-1966 and the Creative Process,” Popular Music 14, no.1 (January 1995): 8-10. 11 Fitzgerald, 10 12 Robert Fink, 180. 6

Music: Political Commentary in Black Popular Music from Rhythm and Blues to Early Hip Hop” in The Journal of African American History was a good example of this. He discussed the attitude of certain African American artists after the Civil Rights Movement and that certain artists were popular because of its popularity. While Motown is not mentioned specifically, specific artist from the company are, like The Four Tops and Stevie Wonder.13 This revealed how Motown was a part of this conversation even if the company was not discussed specifically. Similar to Stewarts article is Derrick P. Alridge‟s article “From Civil Rights to Hip Hop: Toward a Nexus of Ideas” from the same 2005 issue of Journal of African American History. This article mentioned Civil Rights music but never Motown. Similar to the Stewart article, soul music and certain artists were mentioned that displayed what the Civil Rights struggle was like during the 1960s. A perfect example occurred when Alridge quoted a hip-hop artist by the name of Khudjo as he discussed the situation of music in the 1960s compared to the current state of music. He declared that “The only difference is that we just doing it to music. It was a lot of struggle going on in Marvin Gaye's times, Smokey's... times, it's the same struggle though.”14 So while the larger context of the article dealt with Hip-Hop‟s relation to Civil Rights, it also compared Hip-Hop with specific music during the Civil Rights Movement. As the quote from Khudjo showed, Motown artists were part of this struggle during the 1960s. This helped to understand the importance of music in the 1960s, which revealed information about the topic. A more direct connection between the Civil Rights Movement was seen in the article “The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Popular Music” by Reebee Garofolo.

James B. Stewart, “Message in the Music: Political Commentary in Black Popular Music from Rhythm and Blues to Early Hip Hop,” The Journal of African American History 90, No. 3 (Summer, 2005): 206. 14 Alridge, 233. 7

This article was in the 1987 issue of Radical America magazine, and argued that the Civil Right Movement opened the way for African American artists from the 1950s through the 1960s. This article started with Chuck Berry in the 1950s and ended with Motown in the 1960s. He wrote about how music sounds changed during this time and that the Civil Rights Movement had a huge impact on this. While Garofolo seemed to play down Motown a bit, because it was too “poppy” and not as “black” as other artists at the time, he still made a great point. He ended the article with an explanation of how barriers were broken down during the 1960s and showed how the Civil Rights Movement did change the music scene.15 There were many books about Motown‟s history in general, but only a couple added to the conversation of Civil Rights specifically. These were 1986‟s Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise & Fall of the Motown Sound, by Nelson George and 1985‟s The Story of Motown by Peter Benjaminson. George‟s book was more of a history of the corporation, but saw the Civil Rights Movement as a part of the story of the company. Whether it be the fact that Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. were around during the height of the Civil Rights Movement or the fact that the Civil Rights Movement had a generation of open-minded White American teenagers.16 George‟s book also showed the difference of record sales from before the Movement, as charts were hard to break for African Americans before the 1960s because of racism in the charts. In addition, George also explained the fact that people saw White employees hired by Gordy as a problem, but Gordy saw it as a necessity. He did this on purpose since he knew he needed them in order


Reebee Garofolo, “The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Popular Music,” Radical America 21, No. 6 (November-December. 1987): 22. 16 George, 58. 8

to be successful.17This showed how race was an issue even inside of Motown.18 Benjaminson wrote similar to George since his book was a general history of the company. The book was in chronological order and the section during the 1960s revealed how important the Civil Rights Movement was in influencing Motown. Examples of the violent and unfair treatment of pre-Civil Rights Motown artists, such as a Motown‟s tour bus being shot at and the artists being denied hotel room stays. Both of these books showed how in, the Civil Rights Movement had a huge impact on the success of Motown,

17 18

Peter Benjaminson, The Story of Motown (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1979), 57-62. George, xviii. 9

Background To understand the context of the importance of Motown some background information is required on both the Civil Rights Movement and African American musicians prior to Motown. A basic timeframe of the events of the Civil Rights in the 1960s is required to get a grasp on exactly when the events of the Movement occurred and how they related to Motown‟s success. The success of African American musicians a few years before Motown reached its peak is required to see the amount of change that occurred in the 1960s. This showed how Motown‟s unprecedented success for African American musicians was ground-breaking. What African American artists had to go through before Motown really illustrated the importance of Motown‟s success. The racism towards artists and the unpopularity of some of music‟s most talented and important musicians was astounding. The African American artists before the Civil Rights Movement were not nearly as successful as they found almost no mainstream success outside of their regular African American audience. Part of this was due to the chart system being racist in distinguishing between White and African American music. There was an effort to keep African Americans away from the people at the head of the music industry. By having “black charts” and “white charts,” different music was being promoted to the majority music listeners. When an artists like Elvis Presley topped the “black charts” changes were made to keep the charts separate which further put down African Americans.19 Despite being main influences on musicians like The Beatles and The Rolling Stones artists like Chuck Berry and Little Richard did not experience success equal to their white counterparts. This


Brian Ward, Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness, and Race Relations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998), 174. 10

can be directly seen as The Beatles covered many of Berry‟s songs and John Lennon had high praise for Berry as he stated that “Chuck Berry is one of the all-time great poets, a rock poet you could call him. He was well advanced of his time lyric wise. We all owe him a lot including Dylan. He was in a different class from other performers“20 Berry was able to greatly influence one of the most popular band of all time, but racism prevented him from reaching much success. Prevalence of racism greatly affected the social music scene and created obstacles that denied success to many African American musicians. While executives manipulated the charts, popular music still sold successfully before the 1960s. During this time, America was more racist, as Rock and Roll was seen as horrible music, but all of this went towards African American Artists. An example occurred when a crime commission in Houston sent a hundred songs that were deemed “deplorable” to local Disk Jockeys and were not to be played. Racism inspired this list, not Rock and Roll, as all the songs were by African American artists.21 The rare case that white audiences supported African Americans during this time was astonishing as only Ray Charles‟ popularity was an exception that stuck out. Other musicians in the industry did not respect African Americans and White audience members did not care for “black music.”22 What is important to note is that this had been going up to the beginning of Motown. So while this information was before the 1960s it did not suddenly end. A prime example of racism facing Motown in the


Charles Gower Price, “Sources of American Styles in the Music of the Beatles,” American Music 15, No. 2 (Summer, 1997): 217. 21 Szatmary, 23. 22 Public Enemy, “Fight the Power,” Fear Of A Black Planet, Def Jam, Web, <>, 1990. This Public Enemy song, released in 1990, showed how the racist times of the music scene was still in people‟s memory as the song stated “Elvis was a hero to most/ But he never meant shit to me you see/ Straight up racist that sucker was.” The fact if Elvis was racist does not matter in this case. It is the fact that they were bringing him up at all that makes the point. 11

beginning occurred when bullets were fired at the Motown tour bus.23 This made Motown even more interesting and remarkable as it was just not it‟s artists or their music that made the change as the same artists that became stars went through this same racism. This gave more proof that the Civil Rights Movement had a huge impact on the Motown recording company. A detailed analysis of a past artist‟s place in the music history helps to understand this notion more. This was done as a specific look into the aforementioned Chuck Berry. Scholars have recognized Berry, alongside Little Richard, as the ones who had truly started Rock and Roll.24 He made a new sound with Rock and Roll from a blues influence and revolutionized the use of the guitar. Despite this, he was not that popular. However, there is a distinction to make since he was not extremely unpopular that nobody knew him. This was evident since he had songs that charted decently on the Billboard charts. He had twenty-one songs chart on the “Billboard Hot 100,” seventeen that came out before 1970. Of these pre-1970 singles only three charted in the top twenty.25 If he had been completely unpopular, this would not matter. Some would have discarded him as a revolutionary unknown, but the popularity he did receive discarded that notion. This was important as Elvis Presley had a similar sound to Berry and “black” music, but was popular despite some racist backlashes. While it is debatable if Elvis‟ popularity came from the quality of his music, it did not change the fact that, being a White man, Elvis withstood racism in music. This occurred while the African American Chuck Berry suffered from it, despite

23 24

Benjaminson, 58. Szatmary, 16-19. 25 “Chuck Berry‟s Chart History,” <>, accessed February 10, 2012. 12

their similar sounds.26 The difference in their popularity was profound enough to mention as Elvis was one of the most successful solo artist in popular music history. Elvis had 119 singles that charted and 89 of those that came out before 1970. Of these pre-1970 singles seven were number one hits and thirty-nine were top twenty hits.27 The chart history of Chuck Berry, as shown previously, enjoyed mild success and was nothing compared to Elvis. For two people who received credit as some of the originators of Rock and Roll, the distinction between their successes were notable and the fact that the white artist is the more successful one was probably no coincidence. In fact while Elvis was having this success Berry was in jail. So while the African American musician was in jail, the White musician had extreme musical success, made movies, and was one of the most popular men in America. This specific look at Chuck Berry made it clear as to what African American musicians dealt with as they led into Motown‟s time. A brief history on how Motown started and how it initially meant to be African American helps to understand its important relation with the Civil Rights Movement. The most important figure to explain this is the mastermind behind Motown, Berry Gordy Jr. Living in Detroit, Gordy worked at the Ford Factory in which he worked on the famed assembly line.28 After working there he took an eight-hundred dollar loan from a family member and attempted to start a music recording company. This small sum of money was all that he needed to get Motown up and running as Gordy used an assembly line like approach from the factory on the talents that he found. This assembly line consisted of
26 27

Szatmary, 37-33. “Elvis Presley‟s Chart History,”>, accessed February 10, 2012. 28 Gordy, 68. 13

singers, musicians, and writers that worked with each other to create the Motown sound.29 These talents would only be from Detroit, as he wanted to find diamonds among the rough at local competitions and talent shows. The musical talents of Motown were all African American, just as Gordy wanted them. While some employees where White, it was definitely an African American focused company. To stand out Gordy had the beginning performers learn stage presence, as they had to look nice, dance nice and put on a good personality in order to have a great show and to truly reach a mainstream audience. This brief background established some precedence for the rest of the paper regarding Motown. The beginning is essential, as Motown was famous for the type of company it was, an African American company of humble beginnings. How it was ran was also famous, most of the books on Motown concentrated around Gordy as an interesting character almost as much as the music. The place known as “Hitsville” was not always called that as Gordy worked his business magic along with the help of the Civil Rights Movement to truly create something special. This story would be extremely popular even if it Motown was not entirely African American. It was around the same time of Motown‟s beginning that the Civil Rights Movement started. It is not necessary to go into great detail about the Movement, but at least some, as most know many of the famous events that occurred, as it was important in American History. The Movement began when Rosa Parks sat in front of a bus in December of 1955, which started the Montgomery bus marches for most of 1956. This was often seen as the start of the Civil Rights Movement and was also important as it helped launch Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. into national fame. The early 1960s is when the Civil Rights movement really took off as protests were televised and King would have his

Fitzgerald, 2-3. 14

famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” The huge figure that King was and the impact his speech had in 1963, led to the passing of the Civil Rights Act in June of 1964. It was during the 1960s when the popularity of the Civil Rights Movement reached its peak as it helped pass legal reforms. The fact that King and his speech are still symbolic in the United States today, with King having his own national holiday, showed how profound these events were. Looking at the mass audience at the “I Have a Dream” speech, or the events of the Great March to Freedom, proved that a defining moment in the fight for equality came to life.30 When discussing the Civil Rights Movement, its popularity is the focus as it related to Motown more than any other aspect of the Movement. Popularity of the Movement in 1964 affected Motown because music is a part of popular culture, and Motown was not too political during the Civil Rights Movement. An example was having Martin Luther King Jr. as an African American leader allowed people to come together. The popularity of King as a leader cannot be overstated as he led the Civil Rights Movement and reached Whites and African Americans and was one of the defining people of the Movement. For the purposes of this paper, the economic and political effects are not discussed, but rather what social impacts it had regarding White and African American relations. The popularity of the Movement peaked when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed through Congress.


Smith, 22-23. 15

The Civil Rights Movement Influence on Motown’s Success After the Civil Rights Act passed, Motown really experienced increased success. As David Szatmary stated, the success of Motown between 1964 and 1967 was “… fourteen number-1 pop singles, twenty number-1 singles on the R & B charts, forty-six more top 15 pop singles, and seventy-five other Top 15 R & B records.”31 For a four year span this was an incredible success that defined music for that time period. In fact President Barack Obama had Berry Gordy Jr. and Smokey Robinson at the White House for Black History Month in February of 2011 calling Motown “The soundtrack of the Civil Rights era."

So Motown‟s popularity during that struggling time was recognized at this event

as an integral part of the Civil Rights and is still being celebrated today. While their first hit was in 1961, it was these four years, 1964-1967, that really defined Motown and made the company a superstar company.33 A specific song that was very popular was the 1964 song “Dancing in the Street” by Martha and the Vandellas. While the artists behind the song denied it being anything but a party song, others saw it differently. Riots, like the ones in Detroit and Watts, used this song as motivation during the riots.34 A close examination of the lyrics revealed that it was indeed a song for having fun. Martha and the Vandellas sang “All we need is music, sweet music/ There'll be music everywhere/ There'll be swingin' swayin', and records playin‟/ Dancin' in the street/ Oh it doesn't matter what you wear, just as long as you are there/ So come on every guy, grab a girl/ Everywhere, around the world”35 These lyrics revealed
31 32

Szatmary, 139. Nancy Benac, “White House Jams to the Motown Sound,” < UVMVFunQh>, accessed March 8, 2012. 33 Szatmary, 140. 34 Smith, 2. 35 Martha and the Vandellas, "Dancing In The Street (Single Version)," The Definitive Collection, Motown, 16

nothing too drastic as it revolved around music and dancing. Besides being one of Motown‟s most popular songs the effect of this specific song revealed what role this music had during the middle of the 1960s. These lyrics that talked about music and grabbing “gals” did not seem too radical and would not be the cause for riots. However, it was a used in race riots showing how the struggling African Americans at this time were looking for something to cling to.36 Even Martha herself exclaimed “My Lord, it was a party song” later on showing how even the artist was surprised by the use of the song as a call to arms37 Why a song about having a good times though? Why not other songs about protests that came out much earlier that many already knew or a song that resembled the struggles of African Americans in general. This occurred because it was a new African American artist that was successful and inspired other African Americans to rise up.38 The slightest hint of calling to arms in the lyrics of “Dancing in the Streets” was enough for these African Americans to gather around. After being denied for so many years, the mid-1960s had African Americans being freed by the Civil Rights Act and showed their disapproval of the situation afterwards by using a recent African American group. The successful musicians showed how African Americans were just as good and deserved equality. The concept of the effect these successful African American Musicians had during this time was seen in a quote from an African American artist from the 1960s, Curtis Mayfield.39 He explained, “You know, to talk about the „60s almost brings tears to my

Web, < n-the-street-single-version>, 2008. 36 Smith, 171, 198. 37 Smith, 2. 38 Sykes, 439-440. 39 Portia K. Maultsby, “Soul,” in African American Music: An Introduction, ed. Mellonee V. Burnim and 17

eyes. What we did. What we all did. We changed the world--me, us, Smokey Robinson, Jerry Butler, the Temptations, Aretha, Otis, Gladys Knight, James Brown We really did. Barriers broke down for us. And for all black musicians afterwards.”40 Mayfield‟s time with the Impressions, the group he was in with Jerry Butler during the Civil Rights Movement, made him somebody that could talk about the experiences during the Movement. The quote showed how the people involved in Music during the 1960s knew that something special was going on, and further proved that the Civil Rights Movement made a difference in the music. However, it showed more than that, about half of the artists on his list were involved with Motown during the Civil Rights and displayed the importance of the label. The only artists that Mayfield mentioned that he did not directly relate with or were not from Motown were Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, and James Brown. These are some of the most well-known artists from any era and having Motown artists along these artists show how important Motown was during the 1960s. The best example of Motown‟s direct connection to African American political issues in the 1960s was the subsidiary Black Forum label claim to fame as it released some of King‟s political speeches. Black Forum was a spoken word label that released some albums that dealt with African American political issues, but did not have much success outside of the albums King released.41 While it was not at all popular, it showed the connection Gordy had with the Movement, even if he did not allow it to show in his music. The most important of these were, obviously, those released by Martin Luther King as he released three Spoken word albums in the early 1960s under the label titled: The March on

Portia K. Maultsby (New York: Routledge, 2006), 276. 40 Garofolo, 22. 41 Benjaminson, 75. 18

Washington, Freedom March on Washington, and The Great March to Freedom.42 While just the fact of released Martin Luther King albums showed some relation to the movement, it is also important to look at the title of the works which all included the word “march” and two included the word “freedom.” All of the recordings dealt with marches for freedom and one included his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. It suggested that Gordy knew it was an important time for African Americans by promoting the Movement, but did not want to mix it in too much with his business and music.43 If he was dedicated, he would have publicized the releases more and have released it on a main label of Motown. The connection was seen more as King was seen at Motown studios at times talking to Gordy and Gordy himself called King a friend.44 While this did not show anything too concrete to the music of Motown and the Civil Rights Movement, it showed Gordy‟s consciousness of the situation. This consciousness proved a connection and influence between the record label and the Civil Rights Movement. It proved how the popularity of Motown records and the Civil Rights Movement happened concurrently or else Motown would not have King in their building and would not have released his speeches. The memory of Motown proved how connected Motown was with the Civil Rights Movement. While events are happening people are living in the moment and do not realize certain aspects about the event. When people reminisce, they remember how these aspects were involved. One could think about music of the time, as music is a form of entertainment and people listen to it mostly for enjoyment. When looking back the listeners

“Martin Luther King Jr. Discography,” <>, accessed April 26, 2012. 43 Smith, 171. 44 Gordy, 250. 19

realized how it influenced them at that time and that it was a part of that era. This was an example with Motown as some might have just it was just music, but it actually was much more than that. As noted previously, in 2011 President Obama honored Black History month by having Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy Jr. to the White House where they celebrated Motown. The President stated that Motown was “The soundtrack of the Civil Rights era.”45 The memories of the event are important to note since during the Civil Rights Era, Black History was not viewed the same as it is today, thus it was not celebrated as much. The Beatles, on the other hand, were White superstars so their celebration occurred much more suddenly. One can think of themselves as they listen to music today that came out in the past. People listened to music in the past for fun, but now that music reminds them of that time altogether. When people reminisce about Motown today, they often think of Motown along with the Civil Rights Movement. One such example is a CD titled Power to the Motown People: Civil Rights, released in April of 2007.46 This album had thirty different songs, ranging from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s. These songs related to the Civil Rights Movement, and because of this Motown deserved credit and respect, which is suggested in the title of the album, for what it did for the Civil Rights. Thirty songs is quite a bit as it was also a double album consisting of some of the more well known songs, like Marvin Gaye‟s “What‟s Going On”, to lesser known songs, like The Undisputed Truth‟s “Ungena Za Ulimwengu (Unite The World).” This showed to what extent Motown and the Movement were connected. Forty years after the Civil Rights Act was passed and the peak of Motown

Nancy Benac “White House Jams to the Motown Sound” < UVMVFunQh>, accessed March 8, 2012. 46 “Power To The Motown People: Civil Rights [Box Set],” <>, accessed April 17, 2012. 20

were over, there were still dedications made to honor the connection between Motown and Civil Rights. The fact that in more recent times Motown had been thought of being connected to the Civil Rights Movement more than during the Movement was because most songs that directly related to the Civil Rights during the Movement were more gospel and protest songs. A great deal of this was caused by King being a religious man as he used church to reach to people and to make a change.47 When Civil Rights music was brought up specifically, these gospel songs or protest songs are usually mentioned. So this was the music connected with the Civil Rights as pictures of Martin Luther King singing in the church or people protesting down the street are common. So “Civil Rights music” at that time was seen as these different types of music as displayed in the book African American Music as its Civil Rights section mainly discussed these types of songs.48 The “fun” music or music for entertainment, was the songs on the radio and songs that charted, which included Motown. Motown was making the change more subtlety and could be the reason why scholars had not concentrated on Motown nearly as much as other musical artists why scholars had only recently wrote about this connection.49 It also attended to the fact that the Power to the Motown People: Civil Rights album was not released until 2007 and The White House did not honor Motown during Black History month until 2011. Other factors had delayed the focus delay of focus including Motown‟s continued success. An example of this was Motown‟s success until the 1980s. Motown had newer artist, like Rick James, who created many hits and older artists, like Marvin Gaye, who also


Bernice Johnson Reagon, “The Civil Rights Movement,” in African American Music: An Introduction, ed. Mellonee V. Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby (New York: Routledge, 2006), 598-612. 48 Reagon,598-612. 49 Fink, 180. 21

kept up in popularity.50 This showed how scholars could had delayed writing about Motown as a company since it still experienced success. Another contributing factor was that other artists, like The Beatles, were more popular artists to write about as they were more successful.51 This did not take into the account of the long time it took scholars write about Motown after their success declined. Motown had little success in the 1990s and virtually none in the 2000s. So the memory of the importance of Motown could started to be seen in the 1990s with Smith„s Dancing in the Street came out in 1999 as the trend started to change. If the music was seen as completely revolutionary more attention would had been applied to it earlier. These facts attest to the notion that Motown was seen more as just music than the revolutionary music, though still somewhat revolutionary, as it is today. The color lines were being broken down as the Civil Rights Movement brought people together and was a distraction which occurred at the same time that Motown flourished with the entire nation. While this memory is in the form of people outside of Motown, Motown artists were also aware the change that occurred, but showed it more openly after the peak in the middle of the 1960s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the music from some of the main Motown artists was more radical in speaking about African American rights. One of the best examples of this was The Temptation‟s song “Message From A Black Man” from the 1969 album Puzzle People. Each verse of the song showed how music was more capable of


“Marvin Gaye‟s Album and Song Chart History” <>, accessed February 10, 2012.: “Rick James‟ Album and Song Chart History” <>, accessed March 8, 2012. Marvin Gaye success continued as he had several singles chart in the late 1970s which included a number one hit in 1977. He also had one single chart as late as 1985 as it reached number three on the charts. Rick James had twelve singles chart with the earliest occurring in 1978 and the latest in 1985. Two of them would be top twenty hits. 51 Fitzgerald, 9. 22

being radical in terms of race relations. The song stared by stating “No matter how hard you try/ You can't stop me now/ Yes, my skin is black/ But that's no reason to hold me back/ Oh think about it, think about it.” These lyrics showed how The Temptations directly addressed the issue of race. They stated that being African American had it setbacks in society as this differed much than their earlier songs which mostly consisted of love songs. Insisting that African Americans were held back was a strong contrast to the music made prior. The next couple verses stated “I have wants and desires just like you/ So move on aside cause I‟m a-comin' through/ Oh no matter how hard you try you can't stop me now/ No matter how hard you try you can't stop me now/ Yes, your skin is White/ Does that make you right/ Walk on and think about it, think about it.” These aggressive lyrics showed more pride for African American rights. The Temptations stated they were going to make it and come through despite oppressiveness of the times. The notion of trying to be stopped showed that there was something in the way previously so they were openly discussing the problems that African Americans were facing in the fight for equality.52 The most important aspect of these lyrics was that fact they mentioned Whites specifically, suggesting that many White people thought they were better simply because of their skin color. Then they told White people to think about it, which hinted how society was corrupt. This was extremely important since it stated that Whites had brought down African Americans. This did not imply that all the music of Motown artists were suddenly about Civil Rights and equality, but the fact that a song like this made it onto a Motown album revealed that the times had changed. The Temptations not only sang about African American rights, but did so in contrast to what Whites did at the same time. There was no

The Temptations, "Message From a Black Man," Psychedelic Soul, Motown, Web, < >, 2003. 23

holding back African American rights, as the song ended with the words “Say it loud! I‟m Black and I‟m Proud! (No matter how you can‟t stop me now)/ Say it loud! I‟m Black and I‟m Proud! (No matter how you can‟t stop me now).”53 A more subtle example of this was Marvin Gaye‟s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” from the 1971 album What’s Going On. The song referred to people that lived in the inner city and were victimized by society. The inner city refers to an African American population as Rockin in Time stated “The inner city explosions during the late 1960s made many Americans, especially those raised during the Civil Rights Era, more aware of and interested in African-American culture.”54 Not only did this quote show how the inner city was about African Americans, but how through the Civil Rights Era more attention had been brought to African Americans through Civil Rights. The changed viewpoint can be seen through Gaye‟s song as he sang “Make me wanna holler/ The way they do my life/ This ain‟t livin„, this ain‟t livin‟/ No, no baby, this ain‟t livin.” This stated how the life of somebody in the inner city was controlled by some people. When Gaye referred to the vague term “they,” and that “they” controlled life, Gaye referred to the society in general. This was clearer in the subsequent lyrics in the song which included “Inflation no chance/ To increase finance/ Bills pile up sky high/ Send that boy off to die.” This started to mention how the society was failing at large when it treated the inner city population, mentioning inflation as it only increased finances, and this led to that bills went sky high. Gaye then referred to a boy going off to die which was a reference of dying in a war. So Gaye described society as one that treated the people in the inner city horribly, made them pay bills, and then sent them to die in a war, a bleak description of life. The

53 54

The Temptations, Psychedelic Soul. Szatmary, 174. 24

economic issues of the song continue as Gaye sang “Hang ups, let downs. Bad breaks, set backs. Natural fact is I can't pay my taxes.”55 Gaye‟s most revealing part of the song asserted that “Crime is increasing/ Trigger happy policing/ Panic is spreading/ God knows where we're heading/ Oh, make me wanna holler/ They don't understand.” Here he brought in crime and police which introduced a specific part of society. Gaye stated that police were too violent in a crime-infested neighborhood which was an extremely political statement. Within all of this, he implied only God knew where this society was leading them, which exemplified how bad the conditions were since they could not see the future this society held. This highlighted the political aspect of the song even more. The overall lyrical meaning of the song was about society failing, causing hardships on families in the inner city which were mostly African Americans. On top of all of this, the police treated them horribly, the people of society that were supposed to protect the citizens of America and make them feel safe. Throughout the song Gaye sang “make me wanna holler” which expressed how all of these troubles towards these citizens were so bad it made him want to scream.56 These examples of songs definitely had a political agenda to it. “Message From a Black Man” was much more direct as it revolved around race and how the White man had brought down African Americans. While Gaye did not address race specifically in “Inner City Blues (Make me Wanna Holler),” it was implied and just as political as the inner city connected with African Americans.57 This was a contrast to the songs Motown released at its peak in the middle of the 1960s as most of their songs were love songs. With the success


Marvin Gaye, "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)," What's Going On, Motown, Web, <>, 1971. 56 Gaye, What's Going On. 57 Szatmary, 174. 25

of Motown and the Civil Rights Act, it allowed more songs to engage in politically charged lyrics and still be popular as “Inner City Blues” sold four million copies.58 This was seen inside of Motown as Gordy did not allow the artists to make any political music during the mid-1960s, but allowed them to come out with political songs after the success of the Civil Rights, albeit reluctantly. He displayed this attitude as he was hesitant about What’s Going On’s release.59 This showed the change in attitude that the Civil Rights caused as it helped Motown become the great record label in the 1960s. While the two songs discussed were after the peak of Motown, they displayed how the middle of the 1960s was truly a time of political activity and brought African American issues into the spotlight. The Civil Rights Movement caused a degree of change that allowed the success of songs with political meaning.

58 59

Benjaminson, 137. Benjaminson, 137. 26

Revelation from the Billboard Charts The aspect of Motown that revealed the greatest influence from the Civil Rights Movement was the success the company‟s artists had compared to the success of previous African American artists. For this specific paper, single sales will be looked at instead of album sales since there was more data to be used and were released much more frequently. This gave a clearer and more accurate picture of what exactly was happening at the time. Billboard, a chart system that is still the standard today to measure the popularity of, will be used for the following information. Since Billboard has digitized its sales on its website, all of this information is easy to look up and supplied the information for the following paragraphs. However, Billboard‟s online database is not perfect as some artist‟s records are mysteriously empty, like the Four Tops and Smokey Robinson. While it was not huge concern because the limits of this paper would only allow an extensive analysis of a few artists, it was still important to note as some potential records were not attainable. When successful pre-Motown African American musicians‟ chart records were compared to Motown artists chart records there was definitely a change in the success of the music. As each group of musicians was looked at, the year 1964 was a major factor since it was the year the Civil Rights Act passed and divided the charts, with the reasoning being clear in the following paragraphs. Since some Motown artists were popular into the 1980s it is important to set a cut off date to keep the data relevant to this paper. The year 1972 was a significant year for Motown as that was the year the company moved from Detroit to Los Angeles. This was a considerable change as Detroit was a defining part of Motown. This started a new era as it created some tension as some local DJs boycotted Motown records and some members of Motown would not leave with the company to Los


Angeles or were not invited.60 Therefore, 1972 will be the last year singles will be discussed in this paper. The first artist discussed is the previously mentioned Chuck Berry, as he is important to may aspects of this argument. In his career he had twenty-one singles chart on the “Billboard Hot 100” as the first occurred in 1958. Most of them had limited success with only two being in the top ten, both of which came out 1964 or later. The majority of his singles were released in the late 1950s or early 1960s, with thirteen of the twenty-one songs charted before 1964. Those that did chart rarely charted higher than twenty as only one song was a top twenty hit before 1964 as it reached number eighteen.61 He had seven singles chart between 1964 and 1972. Three were top twenty hits, with two top ten hits, and one number one hit in 1972. As described earlier in this paper, Chuck Berry was often credited as a revolutionary musician that helped shaped rock music, but these chart records did not represent somebody as important as Berry.62 An African American artist who was active around the same time as Chuck Berry was Little Richard. He was credited with creating Rock and Roll along with Berry as they bridged it from Rhythm and Blues.63 He had seven singles chart on the “Billboard Hot 100” as the first occurred in 1958. Only two of these charted before 1964 and four between 1964 and 1972. Not only did he have a few songs that charted, but they also did not have great success. The two singles before 1964 charted at forty-one and ninety-five and of the next four charting singles, one reached forty-seven while the other three could not break higher than eighty-two. Little Richard might not had been as famous as other artists at the
60 61

Sykes, 450. Chuck Berry‟s Album and Song Chart History” <>, accessed February 10, 2012. 62 Price, 217-218.: Szatmary, 17. 63 Szatmary, 16-19. 28

time, but is still an important artist to music and only enjoyed slight success on the charts.64 Another African American artist to look at that had his start pre-1964 was James Brown. He had an astonishing eighty-nine songs to chart on the “Billboard Hot 100” with seventeen of them before 1964. Only three of these charted higher than forty with one breaking the top twenty reaching eighteen in 1963. He had most of his success from the 1960s on, as fifty-six songs would chart between 1964 and 1972. Fourteen of these would chart twenty or better and six of them were top ten hits. Therefore, James Brown, who was one of the more well-known artists in music‟s history, showed a great example of a small amount of pre-1964 success and much more post-1964 success. Even though he was more much popular after 1964, his numbers before 1964 were still impressive compared to Berry and Richard. Who Brown was popular with revealed much, African American Music had a quote from Brown which he said “Many white people didn‟t understand it…They thought I was saying kill the honky, and every time I did something else around the idea of black pride another top forty station quit playing my records.”65 This revealed the racism involved with music and how certain artists were much more popular among African American listeners. His more mainstream success occurred only after 1964 which can be seen since he had two top ten hits only a little more than year after the Civil Rights Act passed.66 Another African American musician during this time frame that has to be discussed due to his enormous success on the “Billboard Hot 100,” is Fats Domino. He had an impressive forty-five singles chart from 1958 and only two came out in 1964 or after. Nine

“Little Richard‟s Album and Song Chart History,” <>, accessed February 10, 2012. 65 Maultsby, 277. 66 “The Temptation‟s Album and Song Chart History,” <>, accessed April 17, 2012. 29

of these songs were top twenty hits with four of them being top ten hits. While the position of his singles were somewhat, but not extremely, impressive, the amount of charted singles he had before 1964 was impressive. It showed how an African American artist was constantly popular, but not be popular enough to enjoy the constant success as other white artists.67 While there are many African American artists to discuss, only a few artists fitted into the scope of this paper, but this list would not be complete without Ray Charles who was an exception to limited pre-1964 success. His first single charted on the “Billboard Hot 100” in 1959 and he had seventy-one songs chart, with thirty-three coming before 1964 and thirty-five between 1964 and 1972. Of the singles released before 1964 eleven were top twenty hits, ten of which were also top ten hits, and included three number one hits. After 1964, he only had four top twenty hits with only one breaking the top ten. These records revealed how it was not impossible for an African American artist to have great success before 1964, but it was rare. It is also important to notice how much success he had with three number one hits as this would have be successful for any artists, not just an African American artist. This was a huge contrast to the success of Berry, Richard, and Domino; almost as if it was hit or miss with African American musicians. Except, Ray Charles was the only “hit” and proved to be the one exception of this type of success in the time immediately before 1964.68 With a thorough look into some of the African American artist that set precedent before 1964, some Motown artists are contrasted with these previous artists to see the

“Fats Domino‟s Album and Song Chart History,” <>, accessed April 17, 2012. 68 “Ray Charles„ Album and Song Chart History,” <>, accessed February 10, 2012. 30

change in success for African American musicians. Continuing the use of the Billboard online archive, the singles will be looked at the same as way as the artists above, before 1964 and 1964 through 1972. These statistics showed, more than anything else, that the Civil Rights Movement did indeed help African American musicians and greatly helped Motown as a record company. Charles Sykes showed this greatly when he wrote: For many Blacks, seeing the Supremes, The Temptation, the Four Tops, and others on national television, or hearing news of their success in contexts where segregation still excluded Blacks as patrons, offered a sense of racial pride. For many Whites, the music performed and images projected by Motown‟s artists helped dispel Black stereotypes, or at least spoke to their musical sensibilities enough to reel them in as consumers.69 So the chart records that follow are not just a coincidence, as race contributed greatly to the increased popularity. Writing about Motown would not be complete without looking at Marvin Gaye‟s chart success. So he starts the discussion of the Motown artists. He had fifty-one singles chart in the “Billboard Hot 100” with nine of them charting after 1972, as he did have success that led into the 1980s. He had five singles chart pre-1964 with one being in the top twenty that peaked at number ten. In 1964, his first four singles all were top twenty hits showing an instant increase in his success. He had thirty-seven singles chart between 1964 and 1972 with eighteen top twenty hits, thirteen of them reached the top ten, and one reached the number one position. This showed the change of success compared to those of the African American artists before 1964. Gaye had minor success before 1964, but as the singles showed there was a definite change the year the Civil Rights Act was passed.70 The Temptations were the next Motown artist that was significant to this paper. In

69 70

Sykes, 439-440. “Marvin Gaye‟s Album and Song Chart History” <>, accessed February 10, 2012. 31

total, they had fifty singles chart in the “Billboard Hot 100,” eighteen of which came after 1972, as they also had success leading into the 1980s. Unlike other artists mentioned, they had no real success before 1964 as only one single was able to chart, which was all the way back in 1960, and peaked at number twenty-nine. However, after a four year absence on the “Billboard Hot 100” their next single charted in 1964 and it would be a top twenty hit peaking at number eleven. This year was a turning point as their first number one single came out only a year later and they would have multiple singles chart every year until 1976. Between 1964 and 1972, they would have thirty-four singles chart, which included twenty-two top twenty hits, twelve of which were top ten, and four number one hits. With close to no success and then constant instant success after 1964, this was more proof that the Civil Rights Act was a pivotal milestone that changed music.71 The last of the Motown artists chart success dissected was the all-female band, The Supremes. The Supremes had forty singles chart on the “Billboard Hot 100,” which charted before 1964 and none reached higher than seventy-five. Two more released in 1964, before the Civil Rights Act passed, which charted at twenty-three and ninety-three. The first single to chart in 1964 after the Civil Rights Act passed was “Where Did Our Love Go” and reached number one the week of August the twenty-second. The Civil Rights Act was enacted July Second, 1964, so a little over a month after the act was enacted The Supremes had their first number one hit. This was not a one time ordeal, however, as the Civil Rights Act caused significant change as The Supremes would have five consecutive number one hits, including “Where Did Our Love Go.” Including these five songs, a total six of their next seven songs ended up reaching number one while the only non-number one hit peaked

“The Temptations‟ Album and Song Chart History,” <>, accessed February 10, 2012. 32

at number eleven. This was an outstanding stretch as these seven songs came out in a span of just over a year. It showed the sudden impact that the Civil Rights had on music as no artist discussed so far had anything close to this amount of success in such a little amount of time. In comparison, Ray Charles, the most successful African American on the charts prior to 1964, had three number one hits in a span of time four months longer than the Supremes had six number one hits. This success did not stop, as the Supremes next seven singles would be top ten hits, which included four number ones hits in a row. In total between 1964 and 1970, The Supremes would have twenty-three top twenty hits that included twenty top ten singles and twelve number one hits. This would be outstanding for any musician, but the fact that was a group of three African American females in the 1960s made it astonishing.72 For some perspective on how outstanding the Supremes were, a modern comparison is explained as it revealed the importance of The Supremes. This example is Katy Perry making news recently as she had five number one singles from the same album on the “Billboard Hot 100”. She accomplished this in August of 2011 and was the first female to do so and tied Michael Jackson who was the only other person as he had five singles from his album Bad. This many straight singles did not happen often as Perry was the first artist to accomplish the feat in twenty years as Mariah Carey accomplished this last with five consecutive number one singles, albeit off of different albums, in 1991.73 The


“Diana Ross„ Album and Song Chart History,” <>, accessed February 10, 2012: “The Supremes‟ Album and Song Chart History,” <>, accessed February 10, 2012. The charts records on Billboards website were documented under both Diana Ross and the Supremes and just The Supremes as they had a name change, but for this paper, they are referred to just as The Supremes. 73 “Katy Perry Makes Hot 100 History: Ties Michael Jackson's Record,” < 33

contrast of these numbers with The Supremes‟ show the significance in the success The Supremes had. The first example was that Perry‟s five number one hits were in a span of one year and two months while the Supremes five number one hits were only in an eleven-month span. The Supremes, overall, were the most successful American pop music act in the mid-1960s. Only the Beatles, an import, did better.74 The rarity of 6this occurrence made the Supremes success amazing in its own right, but the fact that an African American female band was able to it in the 1960s made it that much more impressive. Furthermore, they had little success before the Civil Rights Act passed and accomplished this feat immediately after the act passed, which proved even more, the significance that the Civil Rights had on music. This was exemplified as Rockin’ in Time author David Szatmary quoted a 1965 British newspaper which stated “It is no Coincidence that while 10,000 Negroes are marching for their civil rights in Alabama, the Tamla-Motown star is on the ascendant.”75 So even newspapers from different countries noticed the success that Motown had gained and also noticed how the Civil Rights played a part, which continued to show the movement‟s significance towards Motown.

katy-perry-makes-hot-100-history-ties-michael-1005318432.story>, accessed May7, 2012. 74 Fitzgerald, 9. 75 Szatmary, 140. 34

Conclusion The treatment of African American musicians went through an extraordinary amount of change in a few short years. From the late 1950s to the early 1960s there were rare cases of African Americans conquering the charts, but it eventually became a regular occurrence by 1964 and continued afterwards. The struggles of Chuck Berry turned into the successes of Marvin Gaye. The Motown artists that faced racism early on experienced some of the change and were a part of the transition. They had bullets fired at their tour buses, but this eventually led to many consecutive number one hits and helped define the music of a generation. The chart records proved that 1964 was a decisive year and changed the landscape of music. The enormous amount of sales made Motown one of the most famous record companies to ever exist in America.76 The sales of artists like The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and The Supremes showed how Motown definitely had its share of fame and success. This unprecedented fame for many African Americans was important to Motown as people gathered around this success for pride and protest. This was seen when the rioters of the Detroit Riots saw “Dancing in the Street” as a perfect song to promote their riots, even though it was just a party song.77 This connection was no mistake as Berry Gordy Jr. wanted Motown to be primarily African American as all of his musical talent was African American. This notion of an all African American record company contributed to Motown‟s fame and made it that much more astonishing. Gordy started Motown in Detroit and only used local African American talent that made the company feel more like a family. Gordy

76 77

Benjaminson, 73-74. Smith, 2. 35

used techniques that he learned when he worked in Ford‟s factory and made Motown an assembly line of talent. He succeeded in his approach and eventually had an iconic company under his control as he ran the most successful African American owned company in America in the 1960s.78 This was due in no small part to it being concurrent with the times of the Civil Rights Movement. While there was some success before 1964 it paled in comparison with the post-1964 success after the Civil Rights Act became law. As the Billboard charts showed there was some, but limited success for Motown artists before 1964, but they became much more successful after 1964. This was when the Civil Rights Movement influence reached its peak and allowed Motown to come into its own. While the 1960s was definitely the peak for Motown their success lasted into the 1980s. This showed how Motown‟s success in the 1960s was not limited to only the Civil Rights Era and how the Civil Rights Movement changed music, not only, for African American musicians, but all of the music scene forever. Other African America artists did not have much success before 1964 which exemplified this notion even more. While Ray Charles was an exception to this, it still was not as great as some Motown artists, like The Supremes, immediately after 1964. Not quite as successful artists as Charles, like Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, showed a clearer picture of the struggle. Berry being a great musician had next to no success compared to his contemporaries. While Fats Domino had a lot of success, he never reached a mainstream level of success compared to his contemporaries. As racists ran the charts, it had these artists struggle to find mainstream success.79 Each artist showed different types of success,

78 79

George, 58. Ward, 174. 36

but proved in different ways how difficult it was for an African Americans to gain real success before the Civil Rights Movement had a heavy influence on music. The specifics of artist post 1964 revealed the greatest amount change that occurred. The three artists that were looked at from Motown (Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, and The Supremes) illustrated how sales increased. From The Temptations who, did not chart a single for four years before 1964, had constant success into the mid-1970s, to The Supremes charting five straight singles immediately following the Civil Rights Act, proved how change occurred. The success of these artists would be astounding for any artist, but the fact that it was for African Americans in the mid-1960s made it much more spectacular. This occurred when charts were separated into “black charts” and just a few years removed from rare success for African American musicians. This led into the 1970s where the music scene changed as the same Motown artists were singing more politically charged music. The two examples were The Temptations‟ “Message From A Black Man” and Marvin Gaye‟s “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler.)” They showed how they were not afraid about controversial lyrics and sung politically driven songs. The songs in the mid-1960s were more about love, but now black power and a corrupt society entered into Motown‟s lyrics. While these new politically influenced lyrics did not conquer the lyrical content of Motown songs it was an important distinction to make. While Motown technically had pro African American records when Martin Luther King Jr. released his spoken records album on the subsidiary Black Forum Label, this did not show how the Civil Rights were a part of Motown. It showed how the two were interconnected and how African American equality was an issue Motown cared about. This


paper proved how the Movement‟s involvement was less direct than the released King„s speeches might assert, but still had a huge impact in an indirect way. Gordy supported the movement, but did not want to get involved. However, Motown did directly gain help from the Civil Rights Movement as Motown‟s real success occurred after the Civil Rights Act passed which caused a change in African American musician‟s success. An eventual change in lyrical content, the most successful African American owned company, and enormous and unprecedented success for African American musicians were able to exist due largely to the success of the Civil Rights Movement. It allowed African Americans to have success for a mainstream audience when racism engaged American society.


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“Ray Charles„ Album and Song Chart History.” artist/ray-charles/chart-history/4273. Accessed February 10, 2012. “Rick James‟ Album and Song Chart History.” soundtracks#/artist/rick-james/chart-history/4914. Accessed March 8, 2012“The Supremes‟ Album and Song Chart History.” dance-club-play-songs#/artist/the-supremes/chart-history/5788. Accessed February 10, 2012. “The Temptations‟ Album and Song Chart History.” soundtracks#/artist/the-temptations/chart-history/5835. Accessed February 10, 2012. The Temptations. "Message From a Black Man." Psychedelic Soul. Motown. Web, ssage-from-a-black-man 2003. Secondary Sources Alridge, Derrick P. “From Civil Rights to Hip Hop: Toward a Nexus of Ideas.” The Journal of African American History 90, No. 3 (Summer, 2005): 226-52. Benac, Nancy. “White House Jams to the Motown Sound.” id/41775187/ns/today-entertainment/t/white-house-jams-motown-sound/#.T4UV MVFunQh. Accessed March 8, 2012. Benjaminson, Peter. The Story of Motown. New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1979. Burnim, Mellonee V., and Portia K. Maultsby, eds. African American Music: An Introduction. New York: Routledge, 2006. Garofolo, Reebee. “The Impact of the Civil Rights Movement on Popular Music.” Radical America 21, No. 6 (November-December. 1987): 15-22. George, Nelson. Where Did Our Love Go?: The Rise & Fall of the Motown Sound. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2007. Fink, Robert. “Goal-Directed Soul? Analyzing Rhythmic Teleology in African American Popular Music.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 64, no.1 (Spring 2011): 179-238. Fitzgerald, John. “Motown Crossover Hits 1963-1966 and the Creative Process.” Popular Music 14, no.1 (January 1995): 179-238. “Katy Perry Makes Hot 100 History: Ties Michael Jackson's Record.”

40 005318432.story#/news/katy-perry-makes-hot-100-history-ties-michael-1005318 432.story. Accessed May7, 2012. Price, Charles Gower. “Sources of American Styles in the Music of the Beatles.” American Music 15, No. 2 (Summer, 1997): 208-232. Smith, Suzanne E. Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit. London: Harvard University Press, 1999. Stewart, James B. “Message in the Music: Political Commentary in Black Popular Music from Rhythm and Blues to Early Hip Hop.” The Journal of African American History 90, No. 3 (Summer, 2005): 196-225. Szatmary, David P. Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock-And-Roll. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2004. Ward, Brian. Just My Soul Responding: Rhythm and Blues, Black Consciousness, and Race Relations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.