Berry Gordy got his start as a songwriter for local Detroit acts such as Jackie Wilson and The Matadors. Wilson's single "Lonely Teardrops", written by Gordy, became a huge success; however, Gordy did not feel he made as much money as he deserved from this and other singles he wrote for Wilson. He realized that the more lucrative end of the business was in producing records and owning the publishing.
Gwen and Anna started Anna Records. Davis and Gwen Gordy wanted Berry to be the company president, but Berry wanted to strike out on his own. On January 12, 1959, he started Tamla Records, with an $800 loan from his family. Gordy originally wanted to name the label "Tammy" Records, after the popular song by Debbie Reynolds. When he found the name was already in use, he decided on Tamla instead. Tamla's first release was Marv Johnson's "Come to Me" in 1959. Its first hit was Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" (1959), which made it to #2 on the Billboard R&B charts.
Gordy's first signed act was The Matadors, a group he had written and produced songs for, who changed their name to The Miracles when Tamla signed them; their first release was "Bad Girl". Miracles lead singer Smokey Robinson became the vice president of the company (and later named his daughter "Tamla" and his son "Berry" out of gratitude to Gordy and the label). Many of Gordy's family members, including his father Berry, Sr., brothers Robert and George, and sister Esther, were eventually given key roles in the company. By the middle of the decade, Gwen and Anna Gordy had joined the label in administrative positions as well.
Also in 1959, Gordy purchased the property that would become Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. studio. The photography studio located in the back of the property was modified into a small recording studio and the Gordys moved into the second floor living quarters. Within a few years, Motown would occupy several neighboring houses with administrative offices, mixing, mastering and rehearsal studios.