"Hitsville U.S.A." is the nickname given to Motown's first headquarters. A former photographers' studio located at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan approaching the New Center area, it was purchased by Motown founder Berry Gordy in 1959.
It was converted into both the record label's administrative building and recording studio, which was open 22 hours a day (closing from 8 to 10 AM for maintenance). Following mainstream success in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Gordy moved the label to Los Angeles and established the Hitsville West studio there, as a part of his main focus on not only music production, but also television and film production.
West Grand Boulevard
In 1959, Gordy formed his first label, Tamla Records, and 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. Within seven years, Motown would occupy seven additional neighboring houses:
- Hitsville U.S.A. 1959 – (lower) administrative office, tape library, control room, Studio A. (upper) Gordy living quarter (1959–1962), artists and repertoire (1962–1972)
- Jobete Publishing Office 1961 – sales, billing, collections, shipping, & public relations
- Berry Gordy Jr. Enterprise 1962 – offices for Berry Gordy, Jr. and his sister Esther Gordy Edwards
- Finance Department 1965 – royalties & pay roll
- Artist Personal Development 1966 – Harvey Fuqua (head of artist development and producer of stage performances), Maxine Powell (grooming, poise, and social graces), Maurice King (vocal coach, musical director and arranger), Cholly Atkins (house choreography), and rehearsal studios
- Two Homes for Administrative Offices 1966 – sales & marketing, traveling & traffic, and mixing & mastering.
- ITMI Office (International Talent Management Inc.) 1966 – management
Motown hired over 450 employees and grossed an income of $20 million by the end of 1966.
Gordy founded a second label, Motown Records, in September 1959. Early Tamla/Motown artists included Mable John, Eddie Holland.Barrett Strong Jr. and Mary Wells. "Money (That's What I Want)" is a 1959 hit single by Barrett Strong for the Tamla label, distributed nationally on Anna Records. Co-written with Barrett Strong, Barry Gordy and Janie Bradford it was the first big hit for Motown. "Shop Around", The Miracles' first #1 R&B hit, 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 #1 pop hit, "Please Mr. Postman". By the mid-1960s, the label, with the help of songwriters and producers such as Robinson, A&R chief William "Mickey" Stevenson, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and [Barrett Strong and Norman Whitfield], were a major force in the music industry.
From 1961 to 1971, Motown had 110 top 10 hits. Top artists on the Motown label during that period included Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops, and The Jackson 5, while Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, and The Miracles released hits on the Tamla label. The company operated several labels in addition to the Tamla and Motown imprints. A third label, which Gordy named after himself (though it was originally called "Miracle") featured The Temptations, The Contours, and Martha and the Vandellas.
A fourth, V.I.P., released recordings by The Velvelettes, The Spinners, The Originals, and Chris Clark. A fifth label, Soul, featured Jr. Walker & the All Stars, Jimmy Ruffin, Shorty Long, 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). Under the slogan "The Sound of Young America", Motown's acts were enjoying widespread popularity among black and white audiences alike.
Smokey Robinson said of Motown's cultural impact:
Into the '60s, I was still not of a frame of mind that we were not only making music, we were making history. But I did recognize the impact because acts were going all over the world at that time. I recognized the bridges that we crossed, the racial problems and the barriers that we broke down with music. I recognized that because I lived it. I would come to the South in the early days of Motown and the audiences would be segregated. Then they started to get the Motown music and we would go back and the audiences were integrated and the kids were dancing together and holding hands.
In 1967 Berry Gordy purchased what is now known as Motown Mansion in Detroit's Boston-Edison Historic District as his home, leaving his previous home to sister Anna and then husband Marvin Gaye (where photos for the cover of his album What's Going On were taken). In 1968, Gordy purchased the Donovan building on the corner of Woodward Avenue and Interstate 75, and moved Motown's Detroit offices there (the Donovan building was demolished in January 2006 to provide parking spaces for Super Bowl XL). In the same year Gordy purchased Golden World Records, and its recording studio became "Studio B" to Hitsville's "Studio A".
In Britain, Motown's records were released on various labels: at first London (only the Miracles' "Shop Around"/"Who's Lovin' You" and "Ain't It Baby"), then Fontana ("Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes was one of four), Oriole American ("Fingertips" by Little Stevie Wonder was one of many), EMI's Stateside ("Where Did Our Love Go" by the Supremes and "My Guy" by Mary Wells were Motown's first British top-20 hits), and finally EMI's Tamla-Motown ("Stop! In The Name of Love" by The Supremes was the first Tamla-Motown label release in March 1965).
In 1972, Gordy relocated the Motown Records headquarters to Los Angeles. The original Hitsville studios, which had produced a long string of worldwide hits, is now the Motown Historical Museum. The following year, he reorganized the company into Motown Industries, an entertainment conglomerate that would include record, movie, television and publishing divisions. Many Motown fans believed the company's heart and soul were lost following the move and that its golden age of creativity ended after its 13 years in Detroit. Because Esther Gordy Edwards refused to move to California, she was put in charge of what was left of Motown's Detroit office in the Hitsville building.
Motown Historical Museum
Edwards received several requests for the Hitsville building to receive visitors. She and her secretary put up posters and gold records. She also carefully preserved Studio A. Since 1985, The Hitsville U.S.A. building has been the site of the Motown Museum, dedicated to the legacy of the record label, its artists, and its music. On October 23, 1988, Michael Jackson donated a personal black Fedora hat and white studded right-hand glove, along with $125,000, the net proceeds of the first show of his Bad World Tour on October 24 in The Palace of Auburn Hills, to the Motown Museum. Edwards' granddaughter Robin Terry maintains involvement as board chair, currently the CEO is Allen C. Rawls.
Three of the original homes are currently in use by the Motown Museum- the Hitsville U.S.A. and the Jobete Office being connected for the exhibit which contains costumes, photos, and records from Motown's success era. Also featured are Motown's "Studio A" and Berry Gordy's upstairs apartment, decorated to appear as they did during the 1960s. The Finance Department is currently an administrative office. West Grand Boulevard is named "Berry Gordy, Jr. Boulevard" in the area where the Motown Historical Museum is located. The museum is one of Detroit's most popular tourist destinations.
Motown Steinway & Sons Grand Piano
The Motown piano is an 1877 Steinway & Sons Model D grand piano, used by many musicians, including the Funk Brothers studio band, at Hitsville USA Studio B from 1967 to 1972. On July 24, 2011, Paul McCartney before his On the Run Tour performance at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan, made a visit to the Motown Museum for a private guided tour. While touring Studio A, he asked to play the Motown piano only to find out it wasn't in playing condition. It was restored in 2012, with the support of musician McCartney, and was played by McCartney and Berry Gordy at a charity event September 2012.
The piano was inherited by Motown after it bought Golden World Records in 1967. The Golden World studio then became Hitsville USA Studio B. The piano is on display in Studio A at the Motown Museum.
Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971
In 1992, Motown released a four-CD boxed set compiling 103 of its singles released during its "Detroit era", entitled Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959–1971.
- "My Smokey Valentine" by Ron Thibodeaux, The Times-Picayune (New Orleans, La.), Feb. 14, 2009.
- detnews.com | Michigan History - The Golden Age of the Motown Sound. The Detroit News. Retrieved on 2008-08-17.
- Buijk, Cherri. "Music: 'How sweet it is ...'". Metro Times. Retrieved 2012-03-24.
- Motown Historical Museum - Detroit. Wonder Dog, Inc. Retrieved on 2008-08-17.
- Hitsville USA: The Motown Singles Collection 1959-1971 review at allmusic.com
- Motown Historical Museum - official website
- "Come and Get These Memories" (article on the Motown Museum by Gary Flinn)