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Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music as an African American-owned record label that achieved significant crossover success. In the 1960s, Motown and its subsidiary labels (including Tamla Motown, the brand used outside the US) were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as the Motown Sound, a style of soul music with a distinct pop influence.
In 1959, Billy Davis and Berry Gordy's sisters Gwen and Anna started Anna Records. Davis and Gwen Gordy wanted Berry to be the company president, but Berry wanted to strike out on his own. In 1959. with the encouragement of Miracles leader Smokey Robinson, Gordy borrowed $800 from his family to create an R&B record company. Originally, Gordy wanted to name the new label Tammy Records, after the song recorded by Debbie Reynolds. However, that name was taken, and he chose the name Tamla Records. Tamla Records was founded on January 12, 1959. Also in 1959, Gordy purchased the property that would become Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. studio. The photography studio located in the back of the property was modified into a small recording studio, and the Gordys moved into the second-floor living quarters. Tamla's first release, in the Detroit area, was Marv Johnson's "Come to Me" in 1959 (released nationally on United Artists). Later that year, Berry and Motown’s first receptionist, Janie Bradford, writes “Money (That’s What I Want)” in a jam session.
Berry swiftly records it at, Hitsville with Gospel singer Barrett Strong on vocals, Issued on Tamla, “Money (That’s What I Want)” starts to ring up sales in several major markets, but stretches the young company’s capabilities. In March 1960, Berry releases the 45 to his sister Anna’s label, which was distributed nationally by Chess Records. It becomes an R&B smash and a Top 30 crossover success which made it to number 2 on the Billboard R&B charts (released nationally on Anna Records). Gordy's first signed act was the Matadors, who immediately changed their name to the Miracles. Their first release, "Got a Job", was an answer record to the Silhouettes' "Get a Job". The Miracles' first, minor hit was their fourth single, 1959's "Bad Girl", released in Detroit as the debut record on the Motown imprint, and nationally on the Chess label. (Most early Motown singles were released through other labels, such as End, Fury, Gone and Chess.) Early Tamla/Motown artists included Mable John, Eddie Holland and Mary Wells.
The Miracles first number 1 R&B hit Shop Around, peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. It was Tamla's first million-selling record.
On April 14, 1960, Motown and Tamla Records merged into a new company called Motown Record Corporation. A year later, the Marvelettes scored Tamla's first US number-one pop hit, "Please Mr. Postman.
From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits. Top artists on the Motown label during that period included the Supremes (initially including Diana Ross), the Four Tops, and the Jackson 5, while Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Marvelettes, and the Miracles had hits on the Tamla label. The company operated several labels in addition to the Tamla and Motown imprints. A third label, (Gordy) which Gordy named after himself (though it was originally called "Miracle Records") featured the Temptations, the Contours, and Martha and the Vandellas. A fourth, V.I.P., released recordings by the Velvelettes, the Spinners, the Monitors, and Chris Clark. A fifth label, Soul, featured Jr. Walker & the All Stars, Jimmy Ruffin, Shorty Long, the Originals, and Gladys Knight & the Pips (who had found success before joining Motown, as "The Pips" on Vee-Jay). Many more Motown-owned labels released recordings in other genres, including Workshop Jazz (jazz), Mel-o-dy (country, although it was originally an R&B label), and Rare Earth (rock), which featured the band Rare Earth themselves. Under the slogan "The Sound of Young America", Motown's acts were enjoying widespread popularity among black and white audiences alike.