The Impact of Motown on Popular Music and Culture: How This Genre Changed the Music Landscape


It was more than years ago when Barrett Strong, a singer at the time, released the now widely-recognized Motown hit “Money (That’s What I Want).” Little did he know then that this song would come to represent his contribution as a songwriter to musical immortality. With collaborators such as the late Norman Whitfield, some of Motown’s most enduring hits were composed, among them “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” for Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips, “War” for Edwin Starr and “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth.

A vast catalogue of material from The Temptations such as “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Just My Imagination,” “Cloud Nine,” “Psychedelic Shack” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone,” which garned Strong a Grammy Award, saw him transition from performer to songwriter with ease. In , Strong told Billboard: “I never felt comfortable with myself as a recording artist,” with the father of six and grandfather of going on to state “I had to work to support my family. I’m not looking for the spotlight and all the glamour and stuff like that. I just like to work in my studio and see what happens.

In a statement made on Sunday, Motown Founder Berry Gordy Jr. expressed his sorrow regarding the death of Barrett Strong, an early artist of Motown whose partnership with Norman Whitfield created an impressive catalogue of music primarily attributed to “The Temptations”. Describing Strong as “shy” in his memoir “To Be Loved”, Gordy commended the artist’s vocal and piano performance as well as the revolutionary sound they achieved through their collaboration. He concluded that their hits were reflective of their era.

As a longstanding member of the Motown Family, Barrett Strong will be profoundly missed. In addition to his Grammy Award, Strong was duly recognized with a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Association of Songwriters in and was bestowed the honor of an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in . Further demonstrating his legacy, BMI organized a special event in in his name. Having grown up on Detroit’s West Side, he was the son of a Uniroyal plant worker and housewife and performed with his four sisters as part of a gospel group. The quintet toured the local church circuit, during which time Strong built relationships with musical giants such as Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke.

Upon their arrival to the town, it was Wilson who had introduced Gordy to the Strongs in . The two quickly formed a friendship, as Strong often walked to Gordy’s abode on the east side of town to exchange song ideas. As recalled by Strong, they would all congregate around the piano and sing and play upon every visit. One day, Gordy notified him that he appreciated his talent and declared that he wanted to do something with him. Consequently, the first product of their collaboration was a single titled “Let’s Rock”/”Do the Very Best You Can”, which, though receiving local airplay, failed to mark a considerable impact nationally.

Gordy and Janie Bradford wrote the song “Money (That’s What I Want)”, which proved to be a Top hit on the Billboard Hot and No. on the R&B charts; it was later covered by the Beatles and during the s by the avant-garde group The Flying Lizards. Regarding its origin, there are three different stories. In his memoir To Be Loved, Berry states that the “shy” Strong – who also provided piano accompaniment and vocals to the track – joined the session “uninvited”. On the contrary, Bradford claims that Gordy invited Strong into the room and asked him to “give me something”, resulting in the opening piano melody.

In Summary

In conclusion,Berry Gordy and Roquel “Billy” Strong’s collaboration was an inspirational journey that eventually led to the formation of Motown Music and countless hits by artists such as the Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, and The Supremes. Gordy recognized Strong’s potential and took him under his wing, leading to a strong relationship between the two which eventually proved to be fruitful through their many successes together. Their original single, “Let’s Rock”/”Do the Very Best You Can”, is often overshadowed by their later successes, but it was this early song that began the journey towards Motown Music.


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