Marvelettes, The

Hailing from the low-income Detroit suburb of Inkster, the 17-year-old girls who came together as The Marvelettes (originally The Casinyets - a corruption of The Can't Sing Yets) were introduced to Motown Records founder Berry Gordy in 1961 after winning a high school talent contest. Their debut single, Please Mr Postman, gave Motown its first #1 hit in(...)

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. (inspired by Sam Cooke, he added the "e" to his surname when he began his musical career) was born in Washington DC on 2 April 1939, the third of five children of Marvin and Alberta Gay. His father was a Pentecostal minister and a righteous and conservative disciplinarian, and the family lived(...)

Mary Wells

Born in Detroit on 13 May 1943, Mary Wells started singing at the age of ten and actually auditioned for the Tamla Motown label in 1961, when, at 18, she came from nowhere and presented the label with her own composition, Bye Bye Baby - which became her first single release and her first American hit. A year later(...)

Michael Jackson

The King of Pop is a lofty title for any person to live up to, but there's no doubt that Michael Jackson was qualified. He had not yet reached his teens when he was recording million-selling hits with his brothers in The Jackson 5. Born in 1958, Michael was the seventh of nine children to Joseph and(...)


With an $800 loan from his family and a roster of unknown young Detroit singers, former record shop owner Berry Gordy Jnr (pictured) started what he intended to be a small, inner-city recording company. From the time of the company's inception in 1958 to its sale 30 years later, Gordy and his Motown Record Company (short(...)

Smokey Robinson (& The Miracles)

William 'Smokey' Robinson was born on 19 February 1940, the son of a municipal truck driver from what he called "the suave part of the slums". He formed The Miracles (originally The Matadors) - mostly for fun - at his Detroit high school in 1955 with a line-up of Smokey, his high school sweetheart Claudette Rogers (later(...)

Spinners, The/Detroit Spinners

Despite scoring a transatlantic hit in 1970 with It's A Shame (co-authored by Stevie Wonder), The Spinners remained overlooked at Motown in favour of The Temptations and The Four Tops. Only when signed to Atlantic did they find the rich Philly-inspired sound of Could It Be I'm Falling In Love? and The Rubberband Man. The group were sufficiently unknown in(...)

Stevie Wonder

Born in Saginaw, Michigan on 13 May 1950, Stevie Wonder (born Steveland Judkins) was not born blind. The blindness happened shortly afterward as a result of having received too much oxygen in the hospital incubator (Stevie spent a total of 52 days in an incubator). His family moved to Detroit when he was three, and Wonder(...)

Supremes, The

In 1961 three young girls, Florence Ballard, Diane Ross (not until later would she be known as Diana) and Mary Wilson, began a journey that would carry them from the run-down Brewster housing projects in Detroit's ghetto area, to the top of the music world. They were originally a quartet (with Barbara Martin) called The Primettes(...)

Tammi Terrell

Tammi Terrell (real name: Tammy Montgomery) appeared in talent shows at the age of 11 and signed a recording contract when she was 15. In Philadelphia, she was an honour student in high school and had a scholarship at the University of Pennsylvania, but dropped out to be a singer. Tammi came to the attention(...)

Temptations, The

The early history of The Temptations parallels that of The Supremes. The group actually started life as The Primes while The Supremes were called The Primettes. They joined Motown at roughly the same time and employed the classic gospel group formula; a light tenor against a gutbucket rasp, with flashes of falsetto for emphasis. The Temptations' debut album(...)

Undisputed Truth, The

The Undisputed Truth came into being after Bobby Taylor brought Billie Rae Calvin and Brenda Joyce to Motown as part of The Delicates. When The Delicates broke up, the pair kept busy doing background vocals for The Four Tops, Diana Ross, and Edwin Starr until Motown producer Norman Whitfield teamed them up with Joe Harris of The Preps as a(...)

Velvelettes, The

The Velvelettes were formed by Bertha Barbee at Western Michigan University in the early 60s, with Cal (Carolyn) Gill ending up as the lead singer, although she was only 14-years-old and still in high school when she joined the group. With encouragement from Robert Bullock, one of Berry Gordy's nephews, they auditioned successfully for Motown(...)

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