Photography by Kath Usitalo

On an $800 loan and loads of ambition, Detroit autoworker, songwriter and entrepreneur Berry Gordy, Jr. launched a musical movement that both reflected and caused social change. The year was 1959 and Gordy’s record company headquarters was a simple house in Detroit he called “Hitsville U.S.A.”

As Motown Records turns 60, you can tour the hit factory where “Baby Love,” “Shop Around,” “My Girl,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and dozens of other now-classic tunes were produced. A guided tour of the Motown Museum offers a glimpse into the humble beginnings of the success story, including Gordy’s upper flat, where the dining table served as the label’s shipping department. You’ll see concert posters, sheet music and photos, and learn about Maxine Powell, whose job it was to teach the artists poise, personal grooming and public speaking. Examples of flashy Motown costumes include Michael Jackson’s sequined glove, and you can test the echo chamber behind the distinctive Motown sound.

Tours wrap with a walk past the vintage recording equipment in the control room, and into Studio A. Among the original instruments and microphones, everyone breaks into song in the very space where Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, The Four Tops and The Jackson Five turned out hit after Motown hit.

This article originally appeared in the 2018 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Kath Usitalo is the author of three books, “Secret Upper Peninsula: A Guide to the Weird, Wonderful, and Obscure,” “100 Things to Do in the Upper Peninsula Before You Die” and “100 Things to Do on Mackinac Island Before You Die.”