Motown Museum Explores the Beginnings of Berry Gordy Jr.’s Motown Hitsville U.S.A.

For the 60th Anniversary of Motown Records, a never-before-seen selection of artifacts are on display


The Exterior of Motown Museum, formerly Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A.

Jan. 12, 1959 would be a monumental day for 30-year-old Berry Gordy Jr., who had the prospect of establishing a record label in his hometown. Born into a middle-class Detroit family, Berry Jr.’s  strong bonds with his seven siblings paid off, as his sister Esther was willing to give an $800 loan to start his business. Esther ran the family’s Ber-Berry Co-operative, the Gordy family savings club. It was with this money that Berry Jr. established then Tamla Records in a two-story house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, changing the name a year later to Motown’s Hitsville U.S.A. He financed his first independent record “Come to Me” by Marv Johnson, an album which would go on to inspire artists like The Temptations, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, and The Jackson 5 to sign with Berry Jr. Motown Records has produced 180 no. 1 hits to date, and the initial loan from his sister has been evaluated at nearly 80,000 times over — Gordy sold his label for $61 million in 1988 to MCA Inc. and Boston Ventures Limited Partnership.

To celebrate the 60th anniversary of Motown Records Corp., Motown Museum is unveiling a number of artifacts that give insight into the humble beginnings of the music landmark, which championed African American performers in a time of nationally ubiquitous racism. On display will be the Ber-Berry Co-op ledger, which belonged to Berry Sr. and chronicles the financial construction of their operation.  Accompanying the ledger is the co-op analysis of Berry Gordy Jr.’s loan to start his music empire. This eventually gave birth to the ‘Motown Sound,’ commonly a pop-like anthem that utilizes tambourines, as well as electric bass-guitars, to emphasize the gospel and blues styles woven into the cheery melody. In addition, minutes from the Feb. 8, 1959  co-op meeting held between Berry Jr. and his family give exhibition attendees an insider’s look at how the Gordy family ran their business. Motown Museum plans to expand the exhibition throughout the year, as a series of “archive dives” will unearth new artifacts that will be put on display to coincide with Motown Museum’s progressive unveiling of Motown Records history.

What’s really exciting for us — and for all Motown fans — is that this is just the beginning,” says Robin Terry, Motown Museum chairwoman and CEO. “It’s a privilege for us to continue to share more Motown history and artifacts from our vast collection with fans and to tell new stories in new ways.”  The museum has arranged corresponding programs, including the Motown Mic spoken word poetry contest as well as Amplify, a singing competition.


Who is your favorite Motown artist? Let us know in the comments below!

Related: Netflix’s Newest Series Spotlights Motown’s Greatest Hits

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