Motown has had many smaller separate labels that operated as part of the Motown label. There have also been various other labels that were, at one time, distributed (but not owned) by Motown. This page here details all such labels, along with any other miscellaneous labels that were not owned or distributed by Motown, but are in some way related to the company.
The first “Main Labels” section lists all of Motown’s most significant subsidiaries, and each one has its own page with further details and a list of the best songs recorded under that label. The second “Other Labels” section details Motown’s other labels, including its other subsidiaries, Motown-distributed and Motown-related labels.
Sometimes subsidiaries were used to release music in different genres, or just to distinguish between “higher class” and “lower class” acts (yeah). Radio stations at the time would avoid playing too many songs from the same label, to avoid acusations of “payola” (a record company paying or “influencing” radio stations to play more of their songs as part of normal broadcasting). As such, Motown created “sub-labels” that would not be perceived as being part of the same label (even though they kinda were).
Berry Gordy founded Motown as Tamla Records in 1959. He created the Motown label several months later and the two were then incorporated into the Motown Record Corporation. Many other subsidiaries have been set up since, most notably Gordy Records (another primary label for mainstream R&B/soul music) and Tamla Motown Records (the label used to release music outside of the US).
Primary R&B/Soul Labels
Tamla Records: “The Sound That Makes The World Go ‘Round”
Tamla was a primary subsidiary for mainstream R&B/soul music, established in 1959. The label is actually the company’s original label, as Berry Gordy founded Tamla Records several months before creating the Motown Record Corporation. The label’s numbering system was combined with those of Motown and Gordy in 1982, and the label was merged with Motown in 1988, when the record company was sold by Berry Gordy. Notable Tamla artists included Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
Motown Records: “The Sound Of Young America”
Motown was the company’s main label for R&B/soul music, established in 1959. It’s numbering system was combined with those of Tamla and Gordy in 1982, and the label (and company) was purchased by MCA in 1988. Notable Motown artists have included Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops and The Jackson Five.
Gordy Records: “It’s What’s In The Grooves That Counts”
Gordy was another primary subsidiary for mainstream R&B/soul music. The label was originally created as Miracle Records but changed its name to Gordy in 1962. The numbering system was combined with those of Motown and Tamla in 1982, and the label was merged with Motown in 1988. Notable artists on the Gordy label included The Temptations, The Contours, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Edwin Starr and DeBarge.
Secondary R&B/Soul Labels
Soul Records: Soul was a R&B/soul subsidiary for releases with less of a pop feel and more of a traditional soul feel. Notable artists included Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Originals and Jimmy Ruffin. It operated from 1964 until 1978, when it was dissolved.
MoWest Records: MoWest was a short-lived subsidiary label for R&B/soul artists based on the West Coast. Notable artists included Frankie Valli & The Four Seasons, The Sisters Love and G.C. Cameron. Unlike other Motown releases in the UK that were released by Tamla Motown, MoWest retained its US label design and logo for its UK releases as well. MoWest was in operation from 1971 until 1973, when the main Motown office relocated to California, although it remained in existence until 1976 in Britain.
London American Records issued the releases for Motown from 1960 to 1961.
Fontana Records issued the releases for Motown from 1961 to 1962.
Oriole American Records issued the releases for Motown from 1962 to 1963.
Stateside Records issued the releases for Motown from 1963 to 1964.
Tamla Motown Records issued the releases for Motown from 1965. It was Motown’s main non-US label, established in March 1965. It was distributed by EMI and used its own numbering system (tell me about it!). Tamla Motown folded into the regular Motown label in 1976.
Workshop Jazz Records:
Mo Jazz Records:
Mad Sounds Records:
Rare Earth Records: Rare Earth, named after the band, was a subsidiary that released rock music by white artists. Established in 1969, it operated (with Rare Earth the only act releasing any material from 1973) until 1976.
Black Forum Records:
Natural Resources Records:
Motown Latino Records:
Labels Distributed By Motown
Three Brothers Records:
Biv 10 Records:
Summer Camp Records:
Hot Wax/Invictus Records:
Whitfield Records: Whitfield Records was founded in 1975 by producer Norman Whitfield, who had left Motown that same year. Norman, having been at Motown for over a decade, wanted his own record company. He then convinced several Motown acts to follow him to his new label, including The Undisputed Truth, Willie Hutch and Junior Walker. A band by the name of Total Concept Unlimited, who had provided backing for Motown acts like Edwin Starr and The Temptations in the early 1970s, also signed to Norman’s label. They subsequently added a female singer (who had been discovered by Joe Harris of The Undisputed Truth) and became Rose Royce. They were Whitfield’s most successful act, scoring a massive hit with the classic disco song, “Car Wash”, in 1976 (among others). Whitfield Records was distributed by Warner Bros. Records from its inception in 1975 until its collapse in 1982.