When we think about music we rarely consider the business behind it. Instead our attention is centered on the artists we hear and see; the entertainers, vocalists and musicians who perform the music. But often it is the creative vision behind a group or individual that is responsible not only for the promotion and management, but for the writing, arrangement, and look of the group.
We see this in the music industry, today, with the abundance of "boy bands" such as The Back Street Boys and 'N Sync, where every aspect of a bands image such as dance moves, personalities of group members, and songs are all meticulously choreographed and composed to create a product that was as much a visual and dramatic performance as it was a rendition of music.
This concept has been practiced in the music industry since the early years of rock and roll, but it was perfected by R & B producers such as Phil Spector, who developed a larger-than-life "wall of sound," with large orchestral back up, and Berry Gordy of Motown Records.
In the early 1960s a more polished, "up-town" style of rhythm and blues featuring black female singers known as the girl-groups was evolving, particularly in the Detroit area. Although many of the prototypical girl-groups achieved success helping to usher in the new defining sound of early 1960s rock and roll, it was The Supremes who are considered the crown jewel of Motown and 1960s pop R & B.
The Supremes featured Florence Ballard (1943-1976), who was replaced in 1967 by Cindy Birdsong (1939) from Patti Labelle and the Bluebells, Mary Wilson (1944), and most notably the original pop diva, Diana Ross (1944). The three attended high school together and formed a group called The Primettes in the late 1950s; but they were soon discovered by Barry Gordy of the neighborhood record company, Motown (short for Motor Town, a nickname reflecting the city's premiere industry, The Ford Motor Company). Gordy encouraged the singers to finish high school and then changed their name to the Supremes. By 1964 the group had been assigned the writing/production team Holland Dozier Holland, who would write all of their material.
Gordy was responsible for creating The Supreme's legendary image of glamour that he polished to a glossy sheen. The Supremes appeared in identical elegant evening gowns, long gloves, with matching hairstyles, make-up and jewelry; a look punctuated by softly skillful synchronized dance moves that played well on then small television screens. Civil rights were controvercial at the time, particularly for Black musicians struggling to gain a foothold in the music industry. Nonetheless Gordy insisted that lyrics be a softened verson of what had been customarily a raw blues style for which muscians like Willie Mae Thornton and Ruth Brown were known. The glamor of the Motown formula defined the label's agenda to create an accessible style that was marketable to all audiences.
Their playfully romantic lyrics were accompanied by a upbeat and danceable, yet soulful rhythm and are exemplified by a string of five number one hits between 1964 and 1967. Starting with "Where Did Our Love Go," "Baby Love," "Come See About Me," "Stop! In the Name of Love," and "Back In My Arms Again," the group revolutionized the pop/soulgenres, which would eventually reignite the energy of early rock and roll.
The success of this approach simultaneously opened countless opportunities for African American musicians, writers and producers. Motown went on to become the biggest black-owned company in the United States at the time.
By the late 1960s, however, interest in Motown groups competed with music that reflected the concerns of the Vietnam War. The Supremes disbanded, but Diana Ross maintained a hugely successful solo career that spanned the 1970s and early 1980s. Many consider her to be the premiere female vocalist of the late 1960s and 1970s. In 2000, however, she was involved in a troubled international Supremes tour with two non-original members of the trio, which was canceled because of lack of interest. Nonetheless, the influence of Motown and Soul music in general set the tone for pop musicians of the 1970s and 1980s, like Micheal Jackson, Prince, as well as other musicians from genres known as "funk."