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From its storied beginnings as an independent label based in Detroit, Michigan, Motown Records quickly became a music industry powerhouse in the 1960s and remains an icon of American popular culture decades later. The spectacular success of Motown was made all the more significant by the fact that it became the most profitable and conspicuous African American–owned corporation in the United States at the height of the civil rights movement. Many accounts of Motown’s success emphasize the entrepreneurial vision of its founder, Berry Gordy Jr., and his family, but the “Motown Sound” also built on the musical traditions and cultural infrastructure of the African American community in Detroit and beyond. Such origins left a long-standing imprint on Motown Records, just as its musical output left ...

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