Is Motown Even A Label Anymore?

motown_logo.jpgWith all of the press surrounding Motown's 50th anniversary, something sticks out in my mind. Motown, as we've come to know it, does not exist anymore. It appears to not be a label, but more of a "label group," now paired with Universal. There is no more stand-alone Motown, which is kind of a heartbreaker. Knowing the history of the company, it could be said with a high degree of certainty that Motown died quite some time ago. We know that Berry Gordy sold Motown way back when, but at least then Motown was still a functioning entity. Now, it's Motown in name only. A pillar of African-American culture is now simply a marketing tool.

Going to the Universal Motown website, the first thing you currently see is a Ron Browz splash page. That just about tells you everything you need to know. Clicking further, you see a lot of other acts that you would never associate with Motown, the brand. How sad is this? Sure, you still see Erykah Badu included on the site, and even Stevie Wonder, who appears to be the only original Motown act still signed to the label. Stevie has been a quite a soldier, riding with the label for his entire 48-year recording career (who does that?). Of course, catalog titles will still carry the classic Motown stamp, but just knowing that the label is basically been absorbed into its largest conglomerate yet is sad to me. It does not bode well for artistry, I am inclined to think. This is tough; almost as bad as when Don Cornelius stopped hosting Soul Train, and we had to deal with all of those corny new-jack hosts they had.

Happy anniversary/R.I.P., Motown Records.


6 Responses

  1. I wonder if Mr. Gordy has been as vocal about this as he was about the depiction of Motown in film.

  2. You said it, Dar. Back when Motown celebrated its 25th anniversary, there was a magic in the air that remains to this day whenever you YouTube those CLASSIC moments from that event. Motown was once the mecca of black music; a force that rivaled any other. It's tremendously upsetting to see these landmark institutions in black culture topple so easily and being milked strictly for the popularity their brand names carry.
    The demise of Soul Train & It's Showtime at the Apollo is probably the biggest travesties of them all. I grew up in the era of watching those Saturday morning cartoon blocks & immediately after I'd catch the latest dance steps via Soul Train. Later that night, I'd stay up to watch the cheers & jeers unfold on "Apollo" as I'd check out the Amateur Night/Apollo Kids segments, the headlining musical act, & laugh at the lady with the jheri curl that would run to the stage to molest the performing artists. That was OUR 'American Idol.' Good times, man! I mentioned this on a previous post, but the bridging of generations was something we once prized (remember when Motown "returned" to the Apollo?)
    Even as a 4yr. old kid watching these celebrations with my parents, I saw in the way my mom & dad would smile when those performers' names were announced the connectivity that was being projected. I might not have fully understood it, but I knew something great was happening.
    In the 80's & early 90's and even way before then, there was a collective sense of culture that made you proud to be a part of this shift into the mainstream, but perhaps it's that same shift that caused all of this to begin with. The later interpretations of these shows in the early to mid 2000's only proved to be disappointment after disappointment.
    Sure, you see remnants of the earlier era with the BET Awards/BET Honors, whenever the entire audience stands to their feet to sing in unison with Al Green, but overall I miss that feeling on a year-round basis. Though it's never totally left us, I feel with the election of Obama, I think we're gradually seeing a reemmergence of this collective attitude. In Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Alicia Keys, John Legend, (and yeah, even Beyonce) & the many lesser known talented acts like Phonte, Foreign Exchange, etc. It feels like were getting back to the art within the music & the diversity within our own culture. Afterall, history tends to repeat itself.
    So yeah, Motown is officially dead, but here's to hoping it spirit lives on in those who intend on preserving the many gifts Motown gave to us...*a-hem!* Raphael Saadiq.

  3. You bring up a very good point... Motown's lost it's soul, and that was it's niche. I think there are plenty of acts out there that SHOULD be on Motown, but because they're signed to other labels, they're talent is being misused and they aren't getting the shine that they could get from a label known to produce major soul and R&B acts. Like for me, today's Motown lineup should be groups like Brutha (because of their raw talent as a group), Mario, Ledisi, and hell I'd even throw Beyonce in there as the wild child standout of the label. I think Motown lost faith in the formula and moved towards the trends and they are NOT the Motown they used to be. Some of their upcoming acts have potential, like London, but I don't foresee it coming back to prominence the way it once was...

  4. Well Motown as a company always meant the 60s and 70s to me, the last twenty-five years largely trading on that foundation anyway. Motown was its people. The brand had value because of their input in all departments and that creative momentum is not something you can just sell on with the back-catalogue. Once the originators (and I very much include the business people in that), of that success are gone it's over, time to close the store. Individuals make the difference. It's all been history for a long time but the world still knows what Motown was and THAT Motown endures. I think any sadness rests in the absence of young entrepreneurs prepared to build a new company like that, without them, who markets the artistry? It's innovative business brains we need.

  5. Yeah, it is sad but true. Motown is dead.

  6. I agree. Motown is SLOWTOWN! THey dont support their artists. Brian McKnight is so talented but SLOWtown didn promote him. He left 4 Atlantic Records.
    Mya's 4th cd 'Liberation' was delayed & delayed & now it is shelved. She left SLOWTOWN 4 Manhattan Records.
    4 IndiaArie's cd "Test Vol 1" there wsa only 1 is that? She left SLOWTOWN 4 Universal Republic.
    Stevie owns his masters so that is y he dont care what label is he signed 2.
    I wonder how soon b4 Erykah Badu leaves SLOWTOWN.


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