Motown Records and the Hitsville, USA Motown Museum


In Detroit, Michigan, a two story, blue and white house sits and tells a story.  A large sign on the roof says “Hitsville U.S.A.,” and a matching sign sits in the front yard and reads “Motown Museum.”  This house is more than just a building on a square piece of property; Motown Museum exists to remember the start of a recording company that will be known as one of the biggest and most prosperous record companies to ever exist thus far.[1]  A young man named Berry Gordy began producing music in 1959, which marked the start of a new kind of music known as “Motown sound.”  The music produced by Gordy was well liked and grew quickly in popularity, spreading from Detroit to the entire United States.  Today, the Motown Museum is a landmark to those who know, love, and remember the music and legacy that Gordy and his team left for the city of Detroit, state of Michigan, and United States of America.


Motown Museum, Image Source: Tanya Moutzalias of MLive

The Start of Hitsville U.S.A.

Berry Gordy’s journey through music would not have been complete without many ups and downs.  The two songs recorded by Jackie Wilson were a great success, but after receiving a $.359 royalty check, Gordy realized that his current path was not going to be financially feasible.[2]  He refused to give up, however, clinging to the belief that he needed to “create a place where a kid off the street could walk in one door, an unknown, go through a process, and come out another door, a star.”[3]  Gordy borrowed $800 from his family pictured below and started Hitsville U.S.A. in 1959.  He purchased a home in Detroit and turned the back room photography studio into a recording studio.  The first floor was dedicated to music, and Gordy’s family occupied the second floor living quarters.  Recording began instantly.  Rather than just making his own music, Gordy dedicated his time and resources to helping others pursue their own passion of becoming musical artists.  He made history by becoming the first African-American-owned record label to break racial prejudice and achieve popularity nationwide.[4]  Although his start was slow and financially difficult, the lessons Gordy learned along the way only contributed to his overall success.

The Gordy Family enjoying the sound coming from Hitsville, U.S.A., Image Source: “History of Motown”

Hitsville Becomes Motown

Hitsville U.S.A. grew rapidly and its name was soon well known across the entire United States.  Gordy pulled singers, both young and old, off the streets of Detroit and helped them to turn into more than just a corner performer.  The majority were African-Americans, which was a huge part in breaking the white singer stereotype that plagued America for many years.  Gordy worked with artists who would eventually become chart-toppers, including Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. Born blind, Wonder caught the attention of Gordy at the young age of eleven and came to be a child prodigy known as one of the most artistic musicians of the late 20th century.[5]  In 1960, Gordy changed the title of his recording company to “Motown,” named after Detroit’s famous “Motor Town” nickname.[6]  Detroit-based musicians filled the national music charts and brought Motown to life.

Historic photos in Motown Museum showing Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder and many more, Picture Source: AP Photo/Paul Sancya of MLive



            Owing to Berry Gordy’s discerning eye for talent, Motown began popping off, bringing fame left and right. Gordy even assembled a 24-hour hit making and artist development factory which furthered his talent developer process.[7] The first hits from Motown started with the Miracles, the Marvelettes, the Temptations and the Supremes, and grew into chart-topping performers such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Smokey Robinson. [8] It was so inspiring seeing young girls admire Diana Ross and young boys imitate Smokey Robinson at this time in history despite the color of their skin. Motown went to the Music Publishing Awards in 1960 and by 1966, three out of four Motown releases were hit singles.[9] Motown continues to dominate the pop charts for many years to come and brought some of the greatest talent all convened from one company.

Michael Jackson’s glove and hat that he wore to the Motown 25th anniversary special where he did the Moonwalk for the first time, Picture Source: Carlos Osorio/AP of MLive


Paul McCartney and Berry Gordy in front of the 1877 Steinway grand piano used by Motown, Picture Source: AP Photo from MLive

 Motown Today

The 1970’s brought change to Motown as Gordy set his interests in movies and television. He moved the company to Hollywood to produce films while his sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, stayed in Detroit with Motown’s headquarters. After noticing how many people were interested in seeing the work from Motown, Esther decided the world needed a Motown Museum which she founded and opened in 1985 and by 1987, the state of Michigan declared it a historical site.[10] With Gordy’s schedule becoming hectic and competition from other record companies increasing, he sold the record company to MCA and Boston Ventures in 1988 for $61 million.[11] The museum is still visited by tens of thousands as it is one of the most popular tourist locations and Gordy remains active with the newly established Motown Historical Museum in Detroit.[12]

Visitors of the Motown Museum admiring Michael Jackson’s hat and glove, Picture Source: Motown Museum



Motown continues to amaze many for bringing such a big sound from such a small studio. Being the most successful African-American owned company and independent record company in history, Motown music truly is “The Sound that Changed America”.  Motown music is known for bringing together a racially divided country and segregated society through music.[13] Berry Gordy’s intention to educate and motivate people of all ages around the world is still being presented through the Motown Museum in Detroit for many years to come. The legacy and achievements Motown made, including producing more than 180 number one hits and counting, will forever be credited to Berry Gordy, a driven producer, inspiring entrepreneur, and talented teacher.[14] Gordy’s hard work was honored at the American Music Awards in 1975 and inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 which was much deserved.[15] “After Motown, Black popular music would never again be dismissed as a minority taste… Aesthetically no less than commercially, Motown’s achievements will likely remain unrivaled and unstoppable”.[16]



[1] “About Motown Museum.” Motown Museum.

[2] Teresa Bergen, “Motown Museum (review).” Project Muse.

[3] “History of Motown.” Motown Museum.

[4] “History of Motown.” Motown Museum.

[5] “Stevie Wonder.” Biography.

[6] “Berry Gordy.” Entrepreneur.

[7] “History of Motown.” Motown Museum.

[8] “Berry Gordy.” Entrepreneur.

[9] “Berry Gordy.” Entrepreneur.

[10] Teresa Bergen, “Motown Museum (review).” Project Muse.

[11] “Berry Gordy Sells Motown Records for $61 Million.” JAMES BATES.


[12] “Berry Gordy.” Entrepreneur.

[13] “History of Motown.” Motown Museum.

[14] “History of Motown.” Motown Museum.

[15] “Berry Gordy, Jr.,”

[16] “History of Motown.” Motown Museum.


“Berry Gordy.” Entrepreneur. October 09, 2008. Accessed November 30, 2017.

“BERRY GORDY’ MOTOWN TIMELINE.” Detroit Free Press, Jan 11, 2009, (accessed November 30, 2017).

Britannica Academic, s.v. “Berry Gordy, Jr.,” accessed November 30, 2017,

Holsey, Steve. “THE MOTOWN MUSEUM.” Michigan Chronicle, Oct, 2016, (accessed November 30, 2017).

JAMES BATES | Times Staff Writer. “Berry Gordy Sells Motown Records for $61 Million.” Los Angeles Times. June 29, 1988. Accessed December 05, 2017.

“Motown Music – The Sound that Changed America.” Motown Museum. Accessed November 30, 2017.

Sykes, Charles E., D.M.E. “The Black Forum Label: Motown Joins the Revolution.” ARSC Journal. 46, no. 1 (Spring, 2015): 1-41, (accessed November 30, 2017).

Teresa Bergen. “Motown Museum (review).” Oral History Review 43, no. 2 (2016): 421-422. (accessed November 30, 2017).

Pevos, Edward. Can’t miss historic items at Detroit’s Motown museum ‘Hitsville USA’. Detroit: MLive Media Group, 2015.