Motown Vs The Mafia: Delving Behind The Soul Dream

In the latest issue of MOJO, author Adam White explores the sharp realities of hard negotiations, racial segregation and mobbed-up clubs that Berry Gordy’s pop empire strove to overcome.

Motown Vs The Mafia: Delving Behind The Soul Dream

CHARMING (REPORTED) MOBSTERS might not seem an obvious requirement for breaking a group like The Supremes, but without some pacifying of The Mafia the girl group may never have made it to the level they did. The cover of MOJO #268, on sale in the UK now.

Ahead of his forthcoming book charting Motown’s rise – Motown: The Sound Of Young America – author Adam White goes behind the scenes of the iconic label in our latest issue (March ’16 / #268), on sale now.

From dodging extortion attempts, getting money out of unscrupulous distributors and fighting their way onto the Ed Sullivan show – overcoming a segregated American society in the process – the pop and soul label’s behind the scenes battles are laid bare.

Among these unsavoury tasks was some negotiation with the criminal underworld in order to get The Supremes a residency at New York’s The Copacabana nightclub in the summer of 1965.

Despite the girl group's run of US Number 1 pop singles in the wake of the previous year’s Where Did Our Love Go smash, Copacabana manager Jules Podell (reputedly reporting to Frank Costello, known as the “Prime Minister Of The Underworld”) was not easily convinced. However, the Italian heritage of Motown’s Head Of Sales, Barney Ales, helped smooth the way.

“It wasn’t something Podell was happy doing, it was done more as a favour,” recalled Ales, who with an associate had met the nightclub impresario. “The guy with me said to Jules that it would be worthwhile to book them. If there was any money lost, it would be taken care of. I mean, everybody knew that Jules was connected.”

As it turned out, The Supremes proved a commercial and critical success at The Copacabana, with the run helping to cement the band’s mainstream success, furthering Motown’s reputation in the process.

Get the latest issue of MOJO now for more Motown smart dealing and business battles including some colourful brinkmanship over Stevie Wonder’s contract, meanwhile Adam White’s Motown: The Sound Of Young America will be published on March 14.

PHOTO: REX Features