Happy Birthday! Motown Turns 50





In the months leading up to the presidential election, much was made about the size of the crowds and the energy level at Obama rallies. For clues, some looked to the Obama playlist—the songs that served as the soundtrack for those frenzied events. True to his overall political strategy, Obama’s playlist cut across various popular genres—country music stalwarts Brooks and Dunn were as likely to be heard as much as the McFadden and Whitehead disco-era classic “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

But the common denominator at so many of those rallies was the sound of Motown, the once fledgling and once black-owned record label founded in Detroit 50 years ago today. The campaign’s embrace of the Motown Sound was likely not happenstance nor simply inspired by the president-elect’s fondness for soul music from the 1960s. More probably, it is the result of the campaign’s legendary attention to minute details and the understanding that the Motown catalogue was uniquely suited to bring together a nation of disparate opinions, concerns and beliefs. As Suzanne Smith writes in Dancing in the Street: Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit, “Motown’s music symbolized the possibility of amicable racial integration through popular culture. But as a company Motown represented the possibilities of black economic independence.”


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