Berry Gordy’s family, like thousands of others, had moved from the southern states of the USA to Detroit, whose automobile industry in the years between World War I and World War II was a massive honeypot to Americans keen for a good wage and the promise of a better life.
After World War II, among the children and young adults of Detroit, Gordy would unearth an extraordinary pool of talent.
The foundation of the Motown label would coincide with a time of boundless American optimism, opportunity, pride and ambition – and he began building the greatest soul empire of all time with a meagre $800 deposit, creating a star system like no other.
Berry Gordy saw the potential, harnessed the talent, and had the vision to insist that his stars learned their trade as entertainers with mentors such as Maurice King, who taught them the rudiments of music theory, Cholly Atkins (choreography) and Maxine Powell (deportment), all of which may have sounded cheesy to the white rock establishment but sure as hell meant his acts did not have to spend the rest of their lives on the ill-paid chitlin circuit and could infiltrate, not to say desegregate, the best-paid venues of what was, at the end of the 1950s, still a deeply racist society.
As word of a black-owned and largely black-run recording corporation making an ever-increasing string of hits spread, artists and songwriters formed a queue around the block at the Motown headquarters Gordy had bought at 2648 West Grand Boulevard and dubbed Hitsville USA.