With only an $800 loan from his family’s savings, Berry Gordy Jr. founded Tamla Records in Detroit, Michigan, on this day in 1959. Within a year, it was incorporated with another name: Motown. A portmanteau of “motor town” — a nickname for Detroit and its many auto factories — the name was strangely fitting as Motown Records quickly became a hits factory, creating the R&B and soul soundtrack to 1960s America.
Motown's story began in a two-story building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, adorned with the sign “Hitsville U.S.A.” It was there that songwriters worked and reworked their now-classic tunes while the Funk Brothers — the record label’s house band — toiled away in Studio A, aka the “snake pit,” with some of the world’s most famous artists. Together they produced hit after hit, from Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” to the Temptations’ “My Girl.” Elevating artists such as William “Smokey” Robinson, the Supremes, the Jackson 5, and Stevie Wonder, Motown became the world’s most successful independent music label, and introduced America to a new generation of Black music.