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Gordy, Berry, Jr. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Berry Gordy, Jr.

motown music records business

(1929-)
Motown Records

Overview

Although Berry Gordy, Jr., directed and produced some films in the 1970s, he is best known for his founding of the legendary Motown Records and his production of recordings by such artists as Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Miracles, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, and many others.

Personal Life

Born on November 28, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan, Berry Gordy, Jr., was the seventh of eight children of Berry Gordy, a plasterer, and Bertha Gordy, an insurance agent. He attended Detroit public school, but dropped out of high school in his junior year to pursue a career in boxing. He was a professional featherweight boxer from 1948 to 1950, and won 12 of the 15 Golden Glove matches that he fought, but was forced to give up boxing when he was drafted into the Army to serve in the Korean War. While in the Army, Gordy earned his general equivalency diploma (GED) to gain the equivalent of a full high school education.

Upon returning from the war in 1953, Gordy opened his own record store, Three-D Record Mart, in Detroit. The business failed in 1955, and Gordy went to work for Ford Motor Company as an assembly-line worker. He worked there until 1959, when he left the job to become a full-time songwriter.

Gordy married Thelma Coleman in 1953; they were divorced in 1959, and he next married Raynoma Liles. In 1962 his second marriage also ended in divorce, as did his third marriage to Grace Eton, which lasted from 1990 to 1993. Gordy has seven children: three from his first marriage, two from his second, one with Margaret Norton, and one with Diana Ross.

Gordy has received numerous awards, including the Business Achievement Award from the Interracial Council for Business Opportunity (1967), an award for Outstanding Contribution to the Music Industry at the Second Annual American Music Awards (1975), the Whitney Young, Jr., Award from the Los Angeles Urban League (1980), the Black Achievement Award from the Brotherhood Crusade (1988), the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Award (1991), and the Black Radio Exchange Lifetime Achievement Award (1993). In addition, Gordy was named one of the five leading entrepreneurs in the nation by Babson College in 1978 and a Gordon Grand Fellow by Yale University in 1985. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988.

Career Details

While Gordy was working on the assembly line at Ford, he would write songs in his head to alleviate boredom. Some of his songs were recorded by local artists, but Gordy soon realized that, in order to really make any money in the business, he needed to own the songs. With the encouragement of William “Smokey” Robinson, Jr., Gordy borrowed $700 from his family in 1959 and formed his own recording business. First known as Hitsville, U.S.A. and later as Motown Records, it was located in a row house on Detroit’s West Grand Boulevard. Gordy slept on the second floor and made records on the first.

In 1960 Motown released “Shop Around,” written by Smokey Robinson and performed by him and the Miracles. The song sold more than a million copies, earning it a gold record. Gordy’s new company had launched the most successful and influential era in the history of popular music.

Motown produced more than 110 number-one hits and countless “top ten” records during the next several years. Many of these songs were performed by artists that Gordy helped bring into the spotlight, including Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Four Tops, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. Diana Ross and the Supremes were the most popular Motown group in the 1960s, although the Jackson Five proved to be the most lucrative and Gladys Knight and the Pips won the most Grammy awards.

In 1970, Gordy moved his company to Hollywood, California. Here he pursued his interest in film producing and directing, and in 1972 produced his first film, Lady Sings the Blues, starring Diana Ross. The movie was nominated for five Academy Awards and grossed more than $8.5 million. His second film, also starring Diana Ross, was titled Mahogany; although it was fairly successful at the box office, it did not receive the critical acclaim of the previous film. Gordy continued to produce and direct films throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including Almost Summer (1978), The Wiz (1978), and The Last Dragon (1985).

Gordy resigned as president of Motown Records in 1973 and, in 1988, sold the Motown record label to MCA, Inc. for $61 million. He retained control of the music publishing operation and film division, telling Daily Variety that he wanted to “ensure the perpetuation of Motown and its heritage.”

Others are helping to preserve this heritage as well. Gordy’s sister, Esther Edwards, had collected Motown memorabilia over the years and donated them all to the Motown Museum, housed in the brick house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit where Gordy first began his business. Michael Jackson assisted in the preservation of the items, by donating the $125,000 in profits from his Detroit “Bad” concert in 1990 to the Motown Museum.

Social and Economic Impact

Gordy’s autobiography, To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown, was published by Warner in 1994. In the New York Times Book Review, Milo Miles called Gordy “an African American cultural hero of historic stature.” This is partly because Gordy almost single-handedly moved so-called “race music” (the term widely used at the time for recorded music sung by black artists), or “rhythm and blues,” into the mainstream of American popular music.

Chronology: Berry Gordy, Jr.

1929: Born.

1953: Opened first record store.

1959: Founded Motown Records.

1960: Released Motown’s first gold record.

1972: Produced first motion picture.

1973: Resigned as president of Motown.

1988: Sold Motown to MCA.

1988: Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

1994: Published autobiography.

With the introduction of the new sound of Motown, which combined classical African American gospel singing with the new rock and roll sound coming from artists like Elvis Presley and the Beatles, Gordy started a new generation of music. His development of the “Motown sound” forced the music industry to stop publishing separate charts for rhythm and blues music and to incorporate all best-selling songs into one list. According to a reporter for Rolling Stone, “If not for Berry Gordy, Jr., most of Motown’s greatest artists would not have had music careers in the first place and popular music, not to mention the business of popular music, would be very different today.”

Gorman, Leon - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Chronology: Leon Gorman, Social and Economic Impact [next] [back] Gordy, Berry (1929–)

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over 6 years ago

I have grown up listening to motown music from the time I was 5 till this very day. And Im 55now.The motown sound was a nurturing ingretient for young people under 30. It was hope for the future. It was about change. I beleave that if there was no motown I dont know where most of us would be today. I am very grateful for the motown sound. Thank you Berry Gordy.

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about 6 years ago

Gordy, Berry, Jr. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Berry Gordy, Jr.

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Gordy, Berry, Jr. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Berry Gordy, Jr.

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over 5 years ago

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about 6 years ago

Gordy, Berry, Jr. - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Berry Gordy, Jr.

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