In 1959, a 30-year-old songwriter from Detroit had a few hit tunes from recordings he had written with his sister, so with $800 borrowed from his parents, Berry Gordy began what was to become one of the most successful African-American owned businesses in history. But in the 1960s, even as Motown dominated the charts, in southern cities like Nashville, racial segregation kept Gordy and his artists out of most hotels.
Left with few options in one of the most important music towns in the country, the manufacturer of Motown’s records, United Record Pressing (which was known as Southern Plastics in the early years), built a suite of rooms for Gordy and his recording artists who needed a place to stay when they came through Nashville.
The company was based in a bright blue tiled building along Chestnut Street, and although it’s recently moved to larger quarters on Allied Drive, the old plant, looking like a beautifully art directed album cover itself, can still be visited today. Tours include the “Motown Suite,” with rooms furnished just as they were in the 1960s, including some midcentury decor that would be right at home on the set of Mad Men. United is also still a working record press today, with a large factory full of old, very loud, machines.
Under both the Southern Plastic and United Record Pressing names, the company has manufactured vinyl for scores of artists, including Motown’s Steve Wonder and Michael Jackson, as well as Bob Dylan, Loretta Lynn, Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake, The Roots, Radiohead… the list is endless. It also held the contract to press records for the Vee-Jay label, a major blues and R&B company in Chicago, who had the foresight to release the first Beatles record in the U.S. That was before Capitol Records woke up and saw the light.