Do you have friends or family members who like to listen to the “oldies” stations on the radio? If you listen carefully, you might be surprised to hear songs that you already know.

There’s a reason many of these “oldies” are called classics. They’re great songs that never grow old! In fact, many current artists recycle the “oldies” as samples or background music for their own current hit records.

Many of these classic “oldies” from the 1960s were produced by a record company called Motown Records. Motown was started by Berry Gordy, Jr., on January 12, 1959.

Gordy named his record company Motown, because it was located in Detroit, Michigan. At that time, Detroit was the home of the biggest automobile manufacturers in America. Motown was a nickname for “Motor Town,” which is what many people called Detroit.

Instead of automobiles, Gordy’s Motown Records became a factory of a different sort: it made hit records at an amazing pace. In fact, Gordy placed a sign above the front windows of Motown’s headquarters that read “Hitsville, U.S.A.

What was different about Motown was that it was a business owned by and focused on African-Americans. Started at the height of the civil rights movement in America, Motown’s pop and soul music appealed to people of all races. The “Motown Sound” helped to integrate popular music in a way that many thought might never happen.

During the 1960s, Motown produced an amazing number of hit singles by a wide variety of popular acts, including Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Jackson 5, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye.

The “Motown Sound” was a simple formula that relied on good songwriting, great melodies, tambourines, hand claps, horns, rhythmic drum and bass lines and harmonies between the lead singer and his or her backup singers. Many Motown classics sound as fresh today as they did over 50 years ago.


24 Join the Discussion

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  1. I have never heard of this sound, so I was wrong. :( However, I loved today’s wonder! 😀 I think tomorrow’s wonder of the day is about car batteries dying.


  2. I saw the “Who discovered electricity” wonder. Benjamin Franklin discovered electricity.

    And 1 question, what is a Motown? Please reply.


    • TJ,
      Sometimes it is not a question of what but a question of where :) Have you discovered where Motown is?

    • Hello, Julia! We’re glad you stopped by Wonderopolis today! If you click on the “Wonders” link at the top of every page in Wonderopolis, you can see a listing of the most recent Wonders. You can even use the navigation arrows at the bottom of that “Wonders” page to explore even MORE past Wonders of the Day®!

      Here is a link that will take you right to yesterday’s Wonder, though: Wonder #611 – Do You Judge a Book by Its Cover? :-)

    • Thanks for sharing what you think tomorrow’s Wonder might be about, Sleeps12! We really appreciate your comment! We hope you have a WONDERful night, too! :-)

    • Hello, Haley and George! Those are really great questions! There were MANY singers and musical groups who made music for Motown Records. You can learn about some of them by re-exploring the links inside today’s Wonder of the Day®! You can also hear the “Motown Sound” by watching the videos we link to in the “Try it out!” section of today’s Wonder! Thanks so much for being AWESOME Wonder Friends! :-)

    • That’s a GREAT guess, Joseph! Thanks so much for visiting Wonderopolis and letting us know what you think the next Wonder of the Day® will be about! :-)

    • We love to dance to songs that were popular during the Motown era, Paris! We’re tapping our toes just thinking about it! :)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • Where is Motown?
  • Who started Motown Records?
  • What nickname did Berry Gordy, Jr., give to Motown Records’ studios?


Wonder Gallery

record_shutterstock_1168037Vimeo Video

Try It Out

Ready to listen to some classic Motown songs? Ask your friends and family members if they have any Motown favorites that they could recommend. You may be surprised at how this “old” music is just as catchy today as it was over 50 years ago!

Here are some links to video clips you can watch to get a sense of what timeless treasures these Motown hits really are:


Still Wondering

Want to learn more about a completely different type of music? Check out ArtsEdge’s Ralph Stanley: The Roots of Country Music collection to learn about country music and its early innovators through the stories and music of three of country music’s most respected musicians.


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