From the mid-20th century to modern times, the music of Michigan has been pure magic. Here is a closer look at the artists who make Michigan so special…
The raw blues of John Lee Hooker emerged just before 1950. In 1948, Hooker was living in Detroit when he landed his very first recording session. In 1949, his tune “Boogie Chillen” reached No. 1 as an R&B single.
In the late 1950s, Jackie Wilson topped the charts. “Mr. Excitement” hailed from Highland Park. His blend of R&B and soul was right on time. His No. 1 song was “Lonely Teardrops,” released in 1958.
On a related note, that song was written by Berry Gordy, Jr., the founder of Tamla aka Motown Records.
The track would signal the start of something much greater. The origins of Motown.
With an $800 loan, Gordy and his family took up residence in a home on West Grand Boulevard. Part of the home was converted into Motown Studio A and the house became known as Hitsville, U.S.A.
Gordy and his best friend William “Smokey” Robinson doubled as a songwriting duo. One of their biggest hits would be “Shop Around” released in 1961 by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Robinson stayed with the group for over a decade. He wrote the No. 1 hit “Tears of a Clown” and a cavalcade of classics. They include: “I Second That Emotion” and “The Tracks Of My Tears.”
Motown produced some of the greatest pop artists of all time. One of the original girl groups, The Supremes, charted 12 No. 1 songs. Among those chart-toppers were “Where Did Our Love Go” in 1964, “You Can’t Hurry Love” in 1966, and “Someday We’ll Be Together” in 1969. Singer Diana Ross then broke away to become a huge star in her own right.
On the men’s side, there were The Four Tops and The Temptations. In 1965, The Four Tops featuring Levi Stubbs peaked at No. 1 with “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch).” The Temptations had a silky-smooth act. Their moves and threads were always fresh.David Ruffin took the lead as “My Girl” went to No. 1 that year as well.
A superb set of sonic siblings surfaced in the late 1960s known as The Jackson 5. They released their first No. 1 hit “I Want You Back” with Motown in 1969. In 1970, they would release the smash “ABC,” and see that peak at No. 1. Michael Jackson went solo and arguably would become the biggest pop star ever.
And of course, there is Stevie Wonder. Stevie rose from Saginaw, Michigan, to become a worldwide superstar. Wonder is a musical savant skilled on several instruments. In 1972, the song “Superstition” off his record “Talking Book” hit No. 1. Altogether, he’s recorded ten No. 1 hits. His 1976 release “Songs in the Key of Life," sold over 10 million records and was certified diamond.
Many other terrific talents would emerge out of Motown. Among them are Gladys Knight & the Pips, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye, and The Commodores. Beyond that, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and her father Rev. C.L. Franklin settled in Detroit at the New Bethel Baptist Church. She played piano and sang in the choir. Franklin went on to international stardom after her anthem “Respect” came out in 1967.
As for pop and rock music, numerous greats hail from the Great Lakes State. Artist Del Shannon was originally from Grand Rapids. His most successful song was the No. 1 hit “Runaway” in 1961.
“Godfather of Punk” Iggy Pop was born in Muskegon. He led The Stooges, a quasi-punk band from Ann Arbor that would influence many more to follow. Pop’s most famous track is “Lust for Life” cut in 1977.
Detroiter and shock rocker Alice Cooper joined the fray with “I’m Eighteen” in 1970. Cooper’s next Billboard hit was “School’s Out” in 1971. He also influenced a number of famous groups that followed.
Rock legend Bob Seger was born in the Motor City. Seger is best-known for his songs “Turn the Page,” “Night Moves,” and “Like A Rock.” Seger is still rocking at the veteran age of 77. Plus, pop icon Madonna is from the mitten. She has put out a parade of hits over the years. Her music has helped to shape art and culture for almost four decades.
Marshall Mathers aka Eminem holds it down on the hip hop end. Eminem appeared on the rap scene in the early 2000s. Since then, the Michigan resident has won 15 Grammys and scored three No. 1 hits.
Detroit-area native Jack White isn’t far behind with 12 Grammys to his name. His unique mix of alternative and garage rock signaled a turn back to rock’s roots.
One of the top stars in pop music today is Lizzo. The 34-year-old songstress from Detroit won record of the year with “About Damn Time” at the 2023 Grammys.
This covers the past 75 years of popular music. Some of the biggest names in show business have Michigan roots. Of course, there are countless others. The mitten is a music mecca.