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The Primettes

The Primettes Meet Motown

Following their success in Canada, the Primettes decided to see if they could land a record contract with Motown. They already had a small connection to Motown: before Diane Ross's family moved to the Brewster Projects, their neighbor had been Smokey Robinson of the Miracles. By this time, the Miracles had already had a hit song on the Motown label, and the Primettes decided their best bet was to ask Robinson to help them out.


Detroit has long been known as “the Motor City” because it is a center of production for automobile companies. Berry Gordy Jr. used that nickname and gave it a twist by calling his record company “Motown.” Motown was also commonly known as Hitsville, U.S.A.

Berry Gordy Jr. was a successful young boxer when he was in his early twenties. After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Gordy returned to his hometown of Detroit and opened a record store. When that business fell apart, Gordy worked at an auto factory, but he also began pursuing songwriting. The singer Jackie Wilson had a hit with a song that Gordy cowrote, called “Reet Petite.” Gordy continued writing for Wilson, and he soon found success writing for the Miracles, which featured his good friend, singer Smokey Robinson.

Gordy used his songwriting successes to begin a record company called Tamla. Within a year he was successful enough to start a second label, which he named Motown Records. The list of stars that recorded for the Motown label is incredible: Mary Wells, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, and many other chart-topping artists.

The Primettes met Robinson and the other Miracles during a rehearsal. They performed their usual songs, featuring both Flo and Diane on lead vocals. Robinson was friendly and supportive, but he seemed most interested in Tarplin, who was playing guitar. Robinson asked if he could borrow Tarplin for a few Miracles sessions, and the girls agreed. Unfortunately, Marvin never played for the Primettes again!

Losing their guitar player to Robinson's group was a letdown, but the girls refused to give up. Marvin did what he could for them, and recommended the group to one of the sound engineers at Motown. Through that engineer, the Primettes managed to schedule an audition with Berry Gordy Jr. himself!

Additional topics

Musician BiographiesThe SupremesThe Primettes - No Stopping, Canadian Contest, The Primettes Meet Motown, Motown, The First Audition