Marv Johnson was one of the first artists to work with the young songwriter Berry Gordy, well before he founded Motown Records. Born and raised in Detroit, he aspired to be a performer. At a performance at a state fair, Berry Gordy noticed Marv and quickly introduced him to his partner Smokey Robinson, who shared their dream of making it big in the music industry. After Berry Gordy secured an $800 loan from his family’s savings club, Marv recorded his first single “Come To Me” at United Sound System Recording Studios in Detroit. “Come To Me” was the first song released on the Tamla label in 1959 and peaked at #6 on the US R&B charts. In 1960, he released his first album Marvelous Marv Johnson.
1961 was one of the biggest years of Marv’s career. He would release his single “You Got What It Takes” which would peak at #2 on the US R&B charts and reach #7 on the UK charts. That same year, he performed “Oh Mary” in the movie Teenage Millionaire, making him the first Motown artist to appear in any film. By the end of the year, however, he would sign to the United Artists label. He remained with that label until 1966 when he would sign again with Motown and remain until 1973.
A man of many talents, he served in many capacities for Motown during his career, including salesman, songwriter, promotional manager, and head of sales. Marv is remembered as one of the pioneers of Motown and his impact is undeniable. In 2015, Marv Johnson was inducted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame.
Marv Johnson in 1965 performing “Love The Way You Love” on Australian Bandstand
Marv Johnson performing “Oh Mary” in the 1961 film Teenage Millionaire
“Come To Me” almost didn’t come to be after the editor of the song over-mixed it and nearly muted the vocals on the track.