Black History Month & Music: Part 10 of 12

Imagine no Motown.

Imagine if The Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and The Supremes, Diana Ross, The Temptations, The Commodores, Lionel Richie, Rick James, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and The Pips had never happened.

Obviously, the music industry would still exist. But really, what if these artists had never become part of our lives? What if they hadn’t influenced other, countless musicians?

Possible that they would have “made it” without Motown? Of course. But no guarantee. There is a lot to be said for an institution like Motown that helped funnel some of these, arguably some of the greatest musicians ever, into popular culture.

Berry Gordy, Jr. started it all with an $800 loan in 1959. He sold Motown to MCA and a group of private investors for $61 million in 1988.

Consider the America of 1959. Here are a few key moments from that, and preceding years, from the website for the film The Children Shall Lead, which documents the 1961 Freedom Rides.

1956

MLK home bombed in Montgomery; Singer Nat “King” Cole attacked on stage in Birmingham; Alabama outlaws NAACP; Supreme Court affirms Montgomery bus segregation ruling

1957

Willie James Edwards forced by Klansmen to jump to his death from a railroad bridge in Montgomery; Civil Rights Act becomes law; DDE orders federal troops into Little Rock to halt interference with integration of Central High School

1958

NAACP Youth Council members in Oklahoma City begin lunch counter sit-in demonstrations; MLK stabbed while autographing Stride Toward Freedom in New York; Atlanta synagogue bombed

1959

Mack Charles Parker, accused of rape, is taken from his jail cell and lynched in Poplarville, Mississippi; U.S. Civil Rights Commission asks DDE to appoint federal registrars in areas where blacks are denied vote

When you fully consider the cultural and social climate of the time, Gordy’s success is even more special. Not that everything he did during the Motown days was perfect, but for a black man in 1959, he accomplished quite a feat.

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