Motown Records and the Jamaica connection

Michael Jackson (right) and his brothers, performed then as the Jackson 5.

Motown Records is, arguably, the most influential record company ever. Currently celebrating its 60th anniversary, the label’s legacy is secure largely due to the business savvy of founder Berry Gordy and the legendary artistes he signed, such as The Supremes, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder, The Jacksons and The Commodores.

Some of the label’s top acts established ties with Jamaica during the 1970s when reggae caught on internationally. Wonder was a big fan of the sound which can be heard on Boogie On Reggae Woman, a single from his 1974 album, Fullfillingness’ First Finale.

Gladys Knight in 2018. (Photo: Matt Baron/REX/Shutterstock

In fact, Wonder was among a handful of Motown artists who performed in Jamaica in the 1970s. Others included Gaye who visited in May 1974 for two shows at the Carib Theatre and National Stadium in Kingston.

One year later, The Jacksons came to Kingston for a show promoted by Jamaican Chester McCullough. The brothers (Jackie, Jermaine, Randy, Michael, Tito and Marlon) were Motown’s hottest ticket at the time (March 1975) with songs like I Want You Back, I’ll be There and Never Can Say Goodbye.

Motown Records founder Berry Gordy.

They performed at the National Stadium with Bob Marley opening. Along with their mother Katherine, they also met Marley and his family at the singer’s Kingston home.

That year, in October, Wonder performed at the National Stadium as the headliner for the Wonder Dream Concert, a benefit for the Jamaica Institute For The Blind. Third World and The Wailers also performed on the show.

Bob Marley and the Wailers

It was the last time The Wailers lineup of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh and Bunny ‘Wailer’ Livingston performed together. Tosh and Livingston left the group in late 1973.

On September 19 and 20, 1980 Marley opened for The Commodores at Madison Square Garden. The Lionel Richie-led group was one of Motown’s top names with songs like Brick House, Easy Like Sunday Morning and Three Times A Lady. Marley was promoting his Uprising album and keen to break into the elusive African-American market. From all reports, he outshone The Commodores.

Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder never hid his admiration for Marley, who died from cancer in May 1981 at age 36. His 1980 reggae hit, Master Blaster, was a salute to the reggae king.