November 28 – Ford Put Motor City On Map; Gordy Put Motown There

1929 gave us something other than just the Great Depression. Happy 92nd birthday to the timeless Berry Gordy Jr., born this day in Detroit. Oddly he was born Berry Gordy III, but went by “Junior.” But in terms of his contribution to entertainment, he was second to none. If Henry Ford put Detroit on the map industrially, Berry Gordy did the same for it in the show biz world.

His father had moved there from Georgia to find work in the car plants but Junior always loved music and opened a record store, 3D Record Mart, in the mid-’50s when he was writing songs. Meeting Jackie Wilson was fortuitous for the pair; Wilson scored several hits with Gordy songs and Gordy not only built up his reputation but his bank account. By 1959 he had started his own record label, Tamla with Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on it. The name of the company changed in 1960 to Motown – although some releases still came out as “Tamla” – and the rest as they say, is history.

Gordy wrote a number of the hit songs on that label (including “Shop Around”, “ABC”, “Do You Love Me?” and “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy”) and by 1971, Motown acts like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Supremes, Temptations and the Four Tops had racked up 110 top 10 hits! In time they became as important as any American record label, and more so than most. No surprise that he was among the first non-performers inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, in 1988. The Hall said of him, “he is responsible for discovering some of the greatest talent in pop music history…which still reverberates through pop music” and added the obvious societal comment pertaining to the times he worked in. “As a Black American, Berry Gordy accomplished these things despite persistent and formidable barriers of race and class.” In 2019, there was a 60th anniversary (Of Motown Records) tribute concert to him, with greats from his label like Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson, as well as newcomers to the music world like John Legend who told Berry “Your music set the standard for all of us.”

Gordy says his success came about partly because he looked forward and “there aren’t enough people who care about the future. they’re too busy worrying about today and what they can grab now.” Well, what we can grab now is some of the best music of the ’60s that still sounds fresh today courtesy of Berry and his vision.

The talent didn’t stop with Berry, by the way. He has eight kids, including a daughter with Diana Ross, Rhonda Ross, who’s a jazz singer and Emmy-nominated actress, and son Kennedy Gordy, who scored a top 10 single worldwide in the ’80s (“Somebody’s Watching Me”) under the nickname “Rockwell.”

8 thoughts on “November 28 – Ford Put Motor City On Map; Gordy Put Motown There

  1. badfinger20 (Max)

    He deserves every honor he got for starting this. Motown was the American version of the Beatles. They were the soundtrack. I would imagine his commercial success also helped Stax get a foothold.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agree. Like I said to Obbverse, to me, music in the 60s would boil down to Beatles from Britain, Motown USA. Great music and I guess he also single-handedly broke the color barrier on pop radio.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Yep. I love the sound of the 60s and early-’70s singles by them – Supremes, Temptations, Four Tops, Smokey, you name it… and of course Stevie Wonder right through the 70s at least, who was really in a league of his own (playing most of the instruments and writing a lot of his stuff.) Probably politically incorrect of me, but I wonder what happened that made Black music that was so good in that era (not only Motown but the Philly soul sound and others) suddenly become so very annoying and unlistenable (ala pretty much any rap that came after Tone Loc or Will smith as the Fresh Prince)?


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