How Much Do You Know About Motown?

By: Deborah Beckwin
Image: ABC Television via Wikimedia Commons

About This Quiz

The horns. The harmonies. The melodic, bouncing basslines. The syncopated tambourines. 

When you hear a Motown song, you know it immediately.

Motown started with the songwriter, Berry Gordy Jr., who had some success but knew where the money was--in record publishing. In just a few short years, Motown Record Corporation was a behemoth, with over 450 employees and had gross earnings in excess of $20 million in 1966.

Motown had done something that hadn't been done before. It had taken the gospel-soaked soul and beauty of Black American music and created crossover hit after crossover hit, scorching the Billboard Hot 100 charts again and again. So much of what we would consider "Oldies" music is the scaffolding of modern American music.

The influence of Motown Sound, soulful pop music, influenced more than American music. It hopped over to the other side of the pond to the UK and helped to create Northern soul, British music influenced by mod culture and Black American music, a mashup that created some fast-paced music. Northern soul even had its own dance craze that looked like early kinds of break-dancing and disco. The Northern soul scene heavily influenced DJ culture, even today. That's just one example of Motown's lasting influence.

Are you ready to see what you know about Smokey, Mary, Diana and Marvin? You may be surprised to know that behind all the dazzling stars of soul, there were many other musicians and singers who were the foundation of Motown.

We ain't too proud to beg you to take this quiz! Good luck and we hope you enjoy ...

Motown Records gets its name from what city?

Motown is a version of Detroit's nickname of "Motor City". Detroit, Michigan, is home to the "Big Three" automakers, General Motors (GM), Ford Motor Company and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. The label's founder, Berry Gordy Jr., used to work at Ford.

What was the original name of Motown Records?

Berry Gordy wanted to name his record label after the hit song, "Tammy" sung by Debbie Reynolds. When Gordy discovered that Tammy Records was already taken, in 1959, he named his record company Tamla instead. Tamla Records became the Motown Record Corporation in 1960 but also remained a separate imprint of the record company.

Who is the only artist from the glory days of Motown still signed to the label?

Steveland Hardaway Morris, better known as Stevie Wonder, was signed with Motown's Tamla Records when he was just 11 years old. A child prodigy, Wonder had his first record, The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, released when he was 12 years old. Wonder has sold 100 million records, with his latest studio album, A Time to Love, released in 2005.

What was the nickname of the first location of Motown?

In 1959, Berry Gordy purchased a former photographer's studio on 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, Michigan. This building was Hitsville U.S.A., Motown's first headquarters. The building held administration offices and a recording studio, as well as Gordy's living quarters on the upper level.

Who was Motown's first vice president and also a part of the group, The Miracles?

William "Smokey" Robinson Jr., better known as Smokey Robinson, was not only VP of Motown, but he was a major producer and songwriter in Motown's early days. His group, The Miracles, was one of the first groups to sign with Motown. Robinson's commitment to Motown was shown in the names of his children, with his daughter Tamla, and his son, Berry.

What was Motown's first Number 1 hit song?

"Please Mr. Postman" was the first Motown song to be on the top of the Billboard 100 list. Under the Tamla Records label, this song hit number one in 1961. It's been covered by many musical artists including The Beatles, and by the Carpenters, when it hit number 1 again.

Which girl group singer first worked as a secretary for Motown?

Reeves worked days jobs while she was a jazz and blues singer, when Mickey Stevenson, Motown's A&R director, saw her the 20 Grand, a famous Detroit jazz club and gave her his business card. She came to Hitsville USA the next morning to audition and basically started working there as Stevenson's assistant. She later went on to join the group which would become the Vandellas when singer Mary Wells was unable to make the recording sessions and Reeves filled in for her.

What was the name of the session band on most of Motown's records?

According to the documentary, Standing in the Shadows of Motown, this group of session musicians has been a part of "more number one hits than the Beatles, Elvis Presley, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys combined." Thirteen musicians identified as a part of this funky brotherhood were given honors by The Recording Academy and a Grammy lifetime achievement awards. The Funk Brothers are known for the innovative and unique instrumentation and percussive techniques.

How many U.S. Top 10 hits did Motown produce between 1961 and 1971?

For its initial decade, Motown was quite prolific with the Top 10 hits. It was a testament to the record company's ability to produce crossover hits for their African American artists, leading the way in racially integrating the pop music scene.

Holland–Dozier–Holland is the name of what integral Motown team?

Holland–Dozier–Holland (known as H-D-H) may sound like a law firm, but it's the name of a legendary songwriting and production team, with brother Brian and Eddie Holland and Lamont Dozier. Dozier and Brian Holland composed and produced each song as Eddie Holland arranged vocals and wrote lyrics. They're best known for writing for The Supremes and The Four Tops.

What was Tamla Records' first record to sell a million copies?

"Shop Around" was written by Smokey Robinson, the lead singer of The Miracles, and Berry Gordy. It was number one on the Billboard R&B chart and number two on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. This was also the first record to sell a million records for The Miracles.

What was Motown Records' slogan?

"The Sound of Young America" was more than a slogan. Arguably, for Motown, it was a solid fact, especially during the 1960s. The mass appeal of their soulful pop music was undeniable and also innovative for this indie African American record company. You really can't listen to the "Oldies" without hearing a Motown hit.

What girl group started out singing background vocals and providing handclaps for groups such as the Temptations and Marvin Gaye?

You may be surprised to know that the Supremes didn't hit the ground running with hits like The Marvelettes did. From 1961 to 1963, they released six singles and none of them even cracked the Top 40 on the Billboard 100. Around Hitsville U.S.A., they were known as the "no-hit Supremes" until they recorded "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" which made it up to number 23 on the Billboard chart.

Who was the lead singer of the Commodores and also had his own illustrious solo career?

A native of Tuskegee, Alabama, Lionel Brockman Richie Jr. and the Commodores created such hits as "Three Times a Lady", "Brick House", and "Easy". Richie has had a number of solo hits as a singer, songwriter and record producer including "We Are the World" which he co-wrote with Michael Jackson and "Endless Love", a duet with Diana Ross.

Which singer known for her notable hit, "My Guy", was known as "The Queen of Motown"?

Like many of Motown's stars, Mary Esther Wells was a Detroit native. Even though she also known as the "first lady of Motown" she was the third female musical artist signed to Motown. Wells is considered to be Motown's first successful solo artist.

Who started out his time at Motown as a session drummer for The Miracles and The Marvelettes?

Marvin Pentz Gaye's first album, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, didn't yield any hits, so he was a session drummer. He started finding more success as a songwriter and with his second album That Stubborn Kinda Fellow, and built momentum from there, becoming the soul/R&B legend he's known to be today--the Prince of Motown.

Who was the first African American group to get a crossover following?

The Jackson 5 was initially made up of Gary, Indiana brothers Jackie, Tito and Jermaine Jackson as the Jackson Brothers. Then Michael and Marlon joined later to become the Jackson 5. When they joined Motown, they had 16 Top 40 hits on the Billboard 100 chart and four consecutive number-one hits--a first for any group.

What production team helped to produce The Jackson 5?

Made up of Berry Gordy, Alphonso Mizell, Freddie Perren, Deke Richards and sometimes with Perren's wife, Christine Yarian, the Corporation wrote, produced and arranged the Jackson 5 number-one hit singles "I Want You Back", "The Love You Save" and "ABC". They replaced Holland-Dozier-Holland after they left in 1967 to form two record companies. In comparison to H-D-H, The Corporation were more of an anonymous entity and worked together until 1972.

What short-lived production team came together to create "Love Child" and "I'm Livin' in Shame" for Diana Ross and the Supremes?

When H-D-H left, there were big production shoes to fill, and the Clan, made up by Deke Richards (who was also a part of the production team The Corporation), Pam Sawyer, Frank Wilson and R. Dean Taylor, were up to the task--at least for those two Supremes singles. They disbanded in 1969, with The Corporation taking their place.

Which soul group performed the million-selling single, "Do You Love Me"?

The Contours was a six-man group co-founded by Joe Billingslea and Billy Gordon (first as The Blenders). "Do You Love Me" was sung-shouted by Billy Gordon, becoming a crossover hit on the Billboard Hot 100 (reaching number three) after reaching number one on the Billboard R&B chart.

Which Motown singer sang the Vietnam War protest song, "War"?

Born Charles Edwin Hatcher, Edwin Starr joined Motown when his label, Ric-Tic, was purchased by Berry Gordy. The Temptations had recorded "War" first, but because of its anti-war stance, there was some controversy for the group to release the record, so Starr volunteered to record it. This signature song of Starr's shot to the number one position on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sat there for three for three weeks in 1970 and still has a lasting influence on popular culture.

What Motown producer was known to help shape the "Motown Sound" and psychedelic soul?

Norman Jesse Whitfield was a Motown producer and songwriter who did a lot of innovative, experimental work that could be seen as the roots of "psychedelic soul" or "Black rock". Examples of this genre of music are in his work with the Temptations, with songs like "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)". He also produced the song "War" sung by Edwin Starr.

What soul singer is best known for his work with The Temptations?

Born Davis Eli Ruffin, David Ruffin literally helped to build Motown. He lived with Berry Gordy's father and did construction work on the Hitsville U.S.A. building. He became a founding member of The Temptations in 1964 and is a part of the "Classic Five" before his departure in 1968. Ruffin created the four-headed microphone, which helped The Temptations and other groups to sing together andance without sharing one microphone.

Who performed Motown's first hit single, "Money (That's What I Want)"?

Barrett Strong recorded "Money" on Tamla Records, selling over a million records. Strong became a Motown lyricist, pairing up with producer Norman Whitfield.

Who was Diana Ross' musical director for 10 years and a key creator of the "Motown Sound"?

Gil Askey was a Motown arranger, producer and songwriter, working with groups and artists such as The Temptations, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and The Supremes. Before his time at Motown, he was a jazz trumpeter for nearly a quarter century, working with jazz greats like Count Basie, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.

What Motown group's members acted as chauffeurs, chaperones and road managers for their labelmates?

During the first few years of The Spinners' existence, the R&B group had some hits, like "That's What Girls Are Made For", "I'll Always Love You", and "Truly Yours". But Motown was Hitsville U.S.A., so until they switched over to the V.I.P label, the Spinners were doing more support work for Motown. In the 1970s, The Spinners had more success after they left Motown, at Aretha Franklin's suggestion.

In the 1960s, what was the name of the Motown female session singing group?

Marlene Barrow, Louvain Demps and Jackie Hicks made up the 1960s version of The Andantes, who sang background vocals on a plethora of Motown songs. They sang on records for The Four Tops, The Isley Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Mary Wells among others. Just like the Funk Brothers, the Andantes were a core component of the "Motown Sound".

What quartet was known first as The Four Aims?

The Four Tops had a notable sound with Levi Stubbs, the lead singer with a baritone voice. The Motown production team Holland-Dozier-Holland worked closely with the Four Tops and gave them two big number-one hits on the Billboard Hot 100--"I Can't Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)" and "Reach Out I'll Be There".

What 1976 disco hit was meant to be a song for Diana Ross but was sung by Thelma Houston?

"Don't Leave Me This Way" was first recorded by Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, which featured Teddy Pendergrass as the lead vocalist, which garnered hits in the UK and on the US disco chart. But Houston's version took the world by storm, reaching the top of the soul chart and then was number-one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and later, number one the disco chart.

What R&B and soul group is known for their disco hit, "Down to Love Town"?

The Originals were like the male version of The Andantes--singing background vocals for numerous Motown artists including Jimmy Ruffin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Edwin Starr. But they also had their own original music, hit songs like "The Bells" and "Baby, I'm For Real"--co-written and produced by Marvin Gaye. "Down to Love Town" was a 1976 number-one disco/dance hit.

What funk star first signed on to Motown with his rock band, The Mynah Birds?

Born James Ambrose Johnson Jr., Rick James was a genre-defying singer-songwriter and producer. James went solo in 1978, with his album, Come Get It! He's best known for his funk crossover hit, "Super Freak" which was number 16 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1981.

What soul singer went by the nickname "Lady Tee"?

Born Mary Christine Brockert, Teena Marie hailed from sunny southern California where as a child, she loved singing Motown songs. Rick James chose to produce her over Diana Ross after she was signed to the label in 1976. Her soulful voice had many believing that she was an African American until she was on "Soul Train" in 1979.

What soul singer had the Top 10 hit, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted"?

Jimmy Ruffin is the older brother of lead singer of The Temptations, David Ruffin. Ruffin was a Motown session singer before he broke out with his hit, "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted"--a song originally written for The Spinners. The song hit number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 and number six on the R&B chart.

What singer was known for her soulful duets with Marvin Gaye?

Born Thomasina Winifred Montgomery, Tammi Terrell was a terrific talent whose life was tragically cut short, but who had a rather long career for her almost 25 years of living. She started her singing career as a teenager and had hits with her duets with Marvin Gaye, including "You're All I Need to Get By", "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing". She died a month before her 25th birthday from brain cancer, and her death profoundly affected Marvin Gaye, who most likely wrote the album What's Going On in response to her death.

What soul/R&B group had a nearly 40-year run and had their biggest Motown hit, "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)"?

Hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, Gladys Knight & The Pips had some moderate success, but Gladys Knight felt that her group played second fiddle to more popular acts such as Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, and The Supremes. The group was able to take at least one scrap before they left for Buddah Records. "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)" was a Grammy winning performance, winning Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals in 1973.

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