Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 2: Motown, Marvin, and the Jackson 5

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Marvin Gaye, popularly known as the “Prince of Soul”, was raised in a housing project in Washington, DC. While in high school, he formed a singing group with some friends by the name of The Moonglows.

By the time Gaye had signed with Motown in 1960, the Moonglows had broken up. However it was not until 1971 with the release of the song, What’s Going On, did he gain prominence. It was inspired by an act of police brutality at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Berkeley, California. Living up to his reputation as the Prince of Soul, he demonstrated his ability to take this song and sing it in a way that came across in an emotionally powerful way to both black and white listeners. One line of the lyrics was “war is not the answer.” This song had sold 100,000 records in one day. What’s Going On made it to number two on the pop music charts, and number one on the rhythm and blues charts.

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) was another single released on the same album. Its theme was a concern for the environment, such as the disappearance of blue skies, overcrowded land, and the poisoning of the air. It was Gaye’s second million seller. He received two Grammy Award nominations and several NAACP Image Awards, and Rolling Stone’s magazine’s album of the year.

The Jackson 5, five brothers including Michael Jackson, was formed in 1964. They were discovered in 1967, after performances at noted music theatres in Chicago and New York. Gladys Knight of the famed Gladys Knight and the Pips saw the Jackson 5 performance in New York, and sent a tape of it to Motown Records. Motown signed the group in 1969.

Their first four single songs, I Want you Back, ABC, The Love you Save, and I’ll be There, reached number one on the top 100 charts. As a result, the Jackson 5’s appeal toward youth became Motown’s main marketing focus. Many products such as the J5 heart logo, a Saturday morning TV cartoon series, and a teenager publication Right On, began in 1971 and focused on each of the brothers.

Motown launched Michael Jackson’s solo career in 1971 in order to increase sales. Got it be There and Ben were two of his first songs that reached the Top 40.

The rise of the Jackson 5 in the 1960’s and 1970’s coincided with the rise of another group of brothers who were white, The Osmonds. According to the father of the Jackson 5, The Osmonds were considered to be a musical inspiration, and instructed his sons to study them carefully.

Below you’ll find a YouTube video of Marvin Gaye’s performance of What’s Going On, and a video of an early Jackson 5 song I Want you Back. Michael Jackson appears in his early innocence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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