The First Man of Motown – Marv Johnson

25 Apr

Marv Johnson

Here is a good trivia question. What was the first song ever released by the Motown/Tamla label (In 1960, the Motown and Tamla Records merged into Motown Record Corporation)? Miracles, Supremes, Vandellas, Four Tops, Temptations? Nope. Try Marv Johnson, the singer and co-writer of “Come To Me,” which, after it was released in 1959, would go on to reach number 30 on the Billboard Top 100 and number six on the national R&B chart. Since Motown was a fledgling label, Berry Gordy, the founder and king of “The Motown Sound,” sold the rights of this incipient piece to United Artists.

Berry Gordy first met Johnson at a carnival in Michigan. Johnson was performing with a doo-wop group called the Serenaders, and Gordy, a tremendous evaluator of vocal talent, implored Johnson to join his label. “Come To Me” was recorded in February of 1959 at United Sound Studios in Detroit. Johnson recorded with future Funk Brothers bassist James Jamerson and drummer Benny Benjamin. Take a listen to the song:

And, as they say, the rest is history. For good reason, Motown burgeoned like a pandemic. But, for a second, let’s imagine we are back in 1959 and listening to Marv Johnson performing this new song “Come to Me.” The song shares similar doo-wop qualities with the popular music of the time, but, the instrumentation and arrangement is different. It’s, dare I say, modern. More than 50 years later, it is easy to say that such characteristics helped spring Gordy, Smokey, and the talented folk at Motown to the cockaigne of music.

On Saturday, I will venture into NYC to see Motown: The Musical. If you have seen it, let me know what you thought of it. All I know, is that there will be the great music of Motown, and that is all I need.

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