It’s pretty safe to say that Motown Records is a household name. And unless you’ve been living under a rock, the majority of these artists have graced your world. From Marvin Gaye to Stevie Wonder, who are the best Motown artists of all time to bring all types of funk and groove to center stage.
If you are unfamiliar with Motown Records, here is the rundown from Wikipedia, “Motown Records is an American record label owned by the Universal Music Group. It was founded by Berry Gordy Jr. as Tamla Records on June 7, 1958, and incorporated as Motown Record Corporation on April 14, 1960. Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music as an African American-owned label that achieved crossover success.” According to the Detroit Historical, “The company specialized in a type of soul music that came to be known as ‘The Motown Sound’ thanks in part to songwriting teams like Holland, Dozier, and Holland, and a band of studio musicians dubbed The Funk Brothers with their signature backbeat.”
This genre never fails to get you off your feet to dance. While your dance moves may not be stage-ready, it may be beneficial to your health. In fact, a recent study out of Japan reports “groovy” music can even enhance brain functioning! That’s right, dancing your Saturday nights away may just sharpen your thinking skills.
To stay sharp and dive into a valuable part of music history, turn on some Motown jams. StudyFinds did the research and rounded up the top five best Motown artists of all time, according to experts and fans everywhere. Have another artist we didn’t mention? Leave a comment and let us know.
The List: Best Motown Artists of All Time, According to Expert Reviews
1. Marvin Gaye
The Western Herald, among others, hails Marvin Gaye as the number one Motown artist of all time. Called “the No. 1 purveyor of soul music, Marvin Gaye is one of the most influential artists to ever record for Motown Records. Gaye helped shape the sound of Motown in the 1960s, first as an in-house session player and later as a solo artist.” That pretty much sums it up.
Before becoming a successful solo artist, Planet Radio informs that “Marvin Gaye worked behind the scenes with some of the biggest artists already signed to Motown Records and was a session drummer for the likes of The Supremes, Little Stevie Wonder and Martha and the Vandellas.” I think it’s safe to say that he had his fair share of professional relationships. And he was loyal too. “His singing partner Tammi Terrell, who he sang with on hit ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ tragically passed away with a brain tumor. He swore he would never duet with a female vocalist again and even threatened to abandon his career on the stage for good.”
“Gaye changed the musical landscape by singing about social change, the environment, and romance in a way that few at the time had done,” said Dusty Old Thing. “For 20 years, Marvin Gaye’s hits kept audiences entertained across the world.”
2. The Temptations
Another artist that you may have found yourself singing along to around the house are The Temptations. “Besides their harmonies, The Temptations were known for their choreography and debonair threads. The group was signed to Motown in 1961 and became the label’s first act to win a Grammy Award, in 1969. They went on to record many hit singles, including ‘My Girl’ and ‘Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,'” said Yard Barker.
For more than 60 years our music has been bringing people together, even during the tumultuous moments in our History. pic.twitter.com/NjouVxp4ek
— The Temptations (@thetemptations) February 2, 2023
Study.com said that “Motown’s founder, Berry Gordy, quickly saw the potential of The Temptations and hired Shelly Berger as their manager. Berger also served as the manager for the band The Supremes. The Temptations opened for The Supremes until they became large enough to hold their own concerts. Berger led The Temptations to international stardom.”
The original five Temptations known as the “Classic Five,” were Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Otis Williams, and Paul Williams. The Top Tens says of the singer David Ruffin, “David was the best there was. The others were great but David had the soul of his people and ancestors. Even Marvin Gaye said David had something great in his voice that Marvin himself lacked. I’m tired of all the negative talk I hear about David. A lot of people are hearing the same junk and are judging him and neglecting and ignoring his legacy. David gave to us the voice and soul no other has given.”
According to rockhall.com, “The Temptations were inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.”
3. The Jackson 5
The Jackson 5, later The Jacksons, put the family into the limelight and never looked back. “Before Michael Jackson took their name to superstardom the family unit was already cementing their voices through radios around the world and into the hearts of keen listeners everywhere with hit after hit, including ABC, I Want You Back, I’ll Be There, and many more,” shared Route Note.
“The group was founded in 1964 in Gary, Indiana by brothers Jackie, Tito, and Jermaine, with younger brothers Marlon and Michael Jackson joining soon after. They were among the first black American performers to attain a crossover following, preceded by the Supremes, the Four Tops, and the Temptations. The Jackson 5 performed in talent shows and clubs on the Chitlin’ Circuit, then signed with Steeltown Records in 1967 and released two singles. In 1968, they left Steeltown Records and signed with Motown, where they achieved 16 top-40 singles on the Hot 100,” said Ranker.
The Business Insider said, “In 1976, the group’s father and manager, Joe Jackson, moved the band from Motown to Epic Records. Michael Jackson’s first four solo albums were released by Motown, but his subsequent world-stopping LPs, including 1982’s ‘Thriller,’ the best-selling album of all time, were released by Epic. The Jackson 5 were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, and Michael Jackson made it in 2001, eight years before he died in 2009.”
4. Stevie Wonder
It’s no surprise that Stevie Wonder is high on the list of best Motown artists. According to The Business Insider, “In 1963, the 12-year-old prodigy ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder (as Berry Gordy dubbed Stevland Morris) broke onto the national scene for Motown with his harmonica-infused No. 1 single, ‘Finger Tips, Part II.’ A multi-instrumentalist genius, blind from infancy, Wonder would release a string of self-produced and commercially successful albums through the latter half of the 1960s. In 1971, he became the first Motown artist to negotiate a contract that allowed for complete artistic control of his music.”
Stevie Wonder was considered a child prodigy. Culture Trip said, “he spent his early childhood years surrounded by music, singing with a church choir in Detroit and teaching himself to play various instruments, including the harmonica, piano, and drums by the age of ten.”
Ranker describes Stevie’s success as being, “noted for his funky keyboard style, personal control of production, and series of songs integrated with one another to make a concept album.” It’s also important to mention that, “he is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday in the United States. In 2009, Wonder was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace.” Wonder was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.
5. The Supremes
One of the ultimate top girl groups of Motown, The Supremes has quite the resume. “In the mid-1960s, The Supremes’ popularity rivaled that of The Beatles, paving the way for other Black artists to achieve mainstream superstardom. With 12 No. 1 Billboard hit singles, including ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ ‘Baby Love,’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love,’ ‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On,’ and ‘Stop! In the Name of Love,’ The Supremes is considered Motown’s greatest commercial success. Although Gordy renamed the group Diana Ross & The Supremes in 1967, a few years later, Ross left to pursue a solo career,” said Biography.
The Supremes pic.twitter.com/xaBfgwFF7C
— ANGELA (@angelaw676) March 28, 2023
Surprisingly, The Supremes didn’t hit the ground running. “The group who came to define Motown’s unimpeachable sense of poise and glamor got off to a rocky start at the company: notorious for a time as the ‘no-hit Supremes,’ they didn’t manage to score a hit until 1964, with ‘Where Did Our Love Go,’ said U Discover Music.
They made up for it when the group set a record, “with twelve number one singles in the US. They are recorded as the best-charting female group in US history and one of the best-selling female groups in the world,” according to Route Note.
You might also be interested in:
- Detroit Historical
- Western Herald
- Planet Radio
- Dusty Old Thing
- Yard Barker
- U Discover Music
- The Top Tens
- Route Note
- The Business Insider
- Culture Trip
Note: This article was not paid for nor sponsored. StudyFinds is not connected to nor partnered with any of the brands mentioned and receives no compensation for its recommendations.