From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Motown Records, also known as Tamla-Motown outside of the United States, is a record label originally based in Detroit, Michigan ("Motor City", hence mo(tor)town), from where it achieved widespread international success. Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music as the first record label owned by an African American and primarily featuring African American artists to regularly achieve crossover success and have a widespread, lasting effect on the music industry.
Incorporated on January 12, 1959 by Berry Gordy, Jr. as Tamla Records, Motown has, over the course of its history, owned or distributed releases from more than 45 subsidiaries in varying genres, although it is most famous for its releases in the musical genres of R&B, hip hop, pop, and soul. Motown left Detroit for Los Angeles in 1972, and remained an independent company until 1988, when Gordy sold the company to MCA. Now headquartered in New York City, Motown Records is today a subsidiary of The Universal Motown/Universal Republic Group, itself a subsidiary of Universal Music Group.
In the 1960s, Motown and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound, a style of soul music with distinctive characteristics, including the use of tambourine along with drums, a prominent and often melodic bass line played by the electric bass guitar, a distinctive melodical and chord structure, and a call and response singing style originating in gospel music.