Ludovic Hunter-Tilney at the Financial Times:
In its prime the largest black-owned business in the US, with hundreds of hit records and a roster of stars including Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, Motown is one of the most celebrated labels in the history of recorded music. But even today, 55 years after its first number one, the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr Postman”, the question of its legacy is unresolved.
No other record company has inspired so much contradictory commentary. Motown is held up as an emblem of black capitalism but has also been dogged by disputed allegations that it cheated its black acts. It is simultaneously lauded as a symbol of its home city Detroit and condemned for betraying it by relocating to Los Angeles in 1972.
Its ambition to make black pop music for all audiences — “whites, blacks, Jews, gentiles, cops and robbers”, in its founder Berry Gordy’s words — tallied with civil rights protests against segregation in the 1960s. However, Motown has also been criticised for diluting black culture and pandering to the mainstream.