The Motown Culture: The Power of a Vision

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If you know Andre Daughty, you know that he loves music and Motown. I was hooked with the achievements of Motown in the 1960s. Think about it, this company was a power musical empire during the Civil Rights Era. I’ve read over 13 books on Motown and recently finally crossed this off of my bucket lists. I got to tour and walk around the hallowed grounds of Hitsville USA. How can Motown’s Culture connect to the culture of any organization or school/district? It starts with a vision! Berry Gordy had a vision for Motown but it wasn’t easy. Here are five ways how he did it.

  1. Berry Started With His Passion And Talent
    Berry was a boxer on an under card of Joe Lewis. Berry’s parents owned a grocery store. Berry knew what hard work and determination looked like. While he was exploring his future, he knew he loved music. Instead of continuing to box, he wrote music for Jackie Wilson and Barrett Strong (Money, That’s What I Want). His name quickly spread around music circles as a strong songwriter. What passions and talents do you have on which you’re sleeping? What have you not tapped into yet? Think about your colleagues and employees/staff. Great leaders help others find their passion. They find their own passion as well.
  2. Berry Found His Why
    He was in the heart of Detroit where music was everywhere, but often never heard. He saw local do-wop groups at the park singing better than recording artists and realized the lack of opportunity in the hood. He visited high school talent shows and saw the same talent (if not better) than those for which he wrote songs. His vision felt attainable because it was wrapped up in his passion and talent. The majority of the time, your why is wrapped in your passion. The greatness is within the why.
  3. Berry Thought About The End Goal
    He wanted Detroit to be the hub of great music, not just soul Black music. He learned how factories worked by working in one and wanted to create the same approach to his record company. He wanted a factory where any artist could come to Hitsville and leave a polished star. The vision of the company could have multiple paths and routes but it had to align with the ending goal, making Motown with the same (or greater) influence as Columbia, RCA Victor, Decca, Capitol and Mercury. What is your vision’s end goal?? How does it align to the work you’re currently doing?
  4. Gordy Established His Squad
    He knew he couldn’t do this alone so he recruited people he could trust who could carry the vision forward. It went from his vision, to their vision! His family was on board. They were the ones who loaned him $800 to start the label. His friend, Smokey Robinson was the one who shared, “If you are only going to make $300 for writing a hit song, Money, That’s What I Want, you might as well create your own label.” Berry and Smokey knew they couldn’t write all of songs, especially with Smokey being an artist, so they found other great writers like Mikey Stevenson, Janie Bradford, Norman Whitfield, and Holland-Dozier-Holland. Cholly Atkins joined to help each group create their own choreography. Harvey Fuqua, had knowledge about the industry and was a part of A&R. Maurice King, was a great vocal coach and joined in. Berry knew the artists would stand before kings and queens and got a local etiquette coach, Maxine Powell, to help refine these high school students. Yes, many of the Motown greats were juniors and seniors in high school during the start up years of Motown! There were dozens of jazz clubs around town and Berry recruited them to be his house band, called the Funk Brothers. Ester Berry was great with organization and was the office director. (Ester was the one who came up with the idea to make Motown into a museum.) Berry knew he couldn’t do it alone and neither can you. Yes, you are great, but you will need help to accomplish your vision. Who will help you? Who are you recruiting? Who is your inner circle to help push the vision? Althea Gibson’s quote is powerful. “No matter what you accomplish, somebody helped you.”
  5. Gordy Defined Specific Action Steps
    I didn’t know this part before walking on Motown’s campus. I knew there were four houses that made up Motown, but there were a total of eight in Detroit before Motown moved to California. Six of the buildings were still up. Each building had a defined purpose. One was just for the accounting and finances (white building #4) as well as the International talent/writing hits (brown building #3).

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    Across the street from Hitsville was for developing the artist through etiquette classes, vocal coaching and choreography (building #7 center of picture).

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    Hitsville was the main building with Studio A, but to the left was Jobete Publishing, studio B (building #2). There was a Studio C to the right of Hitsville.

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    Imagine the energy on that street! The 4 Tops are recording with the Funk Brothers in Studio A (#1) building. Across the street in the A&R (#7) building, you hear the Temptations and Cholly Atkins working on their choreography, a young Stevie Wonder and Maurice King sharing piano chords and singing in a neighboring room, then peaking in to see the Supremes working on posture with Maxine Powell. In the finance (#4) building, Mary Wells is negotiating her tour. Berry Gordy, Norman Whittfield and Smokey Robinson just finished writing a new song for Martha and the Vandellas in (#3) building and Studio B (#2) has Marvin Gaye and Tammy Terrell singing Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing Baby. Everyone had a purpose and a duty before going out on the Motown Revue and it was all planned out. Berry had created a factory of greatness with specific action steps for each artist to grow and hone their craft. How are you building action steps with your team?

    #THATwasAWESOMEtoSEEinREALlife!

Next week, I’ll share some more insights on the culture of Motown.

What resonates with you? What things can you take away from Berry Gordy and Motown?

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