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Thu, 11.28.1929

Berry Gordy Jr., Motown founder

Berry Gordy Jr.

Berry Gordy, Jr., was born on this date in 1929. He is a Black record producer, and the founder of the Motown record label and its subsidiaries.

Born in Detroit, he was one of eight children born to the middle-class family of Berry Gordy, Sr., a plastering contractor, and Bertha Fuller Gordy.  The senior Gordy and family had relocated to Detroit from Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1922.  Gordy was brought up in a tight-knit family with strong morals. He dropped out of high school in the 11th grade to become a professional boxer, a career he followed until 1950 when he was drafted by the U.S. Army for the Korean War.

After serving in the army and working as a record-store manager, he moved into the creative and entrepreneurial side of the music business.  In the mid-fifties, Gordy married Thelma Coleman. He began writing songs for local R&B acts and quickly acquired a local reputation as a songwriter and producer. His first break came in 1957, when Brunswick Records bought a song of his called "Reet Petite" for Jackie Wilson. Gordy had co-written the song with his sister Gwen and Billy Davis. Wilson recorded four more songs co-written by Gordy over the next two years.

Gordy reinvested his songwriting successes into producing.  During this time, he discovered Smokey Robinson and The Miracles and began building a portfolio of successful artists. In January 1959, Gordy founded a new R&B label called Tamla Records, which produced Marv Johnson's first hit, "Come To Me." At Robinson's encouragement, Gordy created Motown Records on December 14, 1959. Barrett Strong's "Money (That's What I Want)" did well in 1960. The Miracles' hit "Shop Around" peaked nationally at #1 on the R&B charts that same year and at #2 on the pop charts in 1961 and established Motown as an independent company worthy of notice. He promoted Black artists but carefully controlled their public image, managing dress, manners, and choreography for crossover appeal.

His gift for identifying musical talent, along with the careful management of his artists' public image, made Motown a national success. Over the next decade he signed such artists as Mary Wells, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight and The Pips, The Commodores, The Velvelettes, The Marvelettes, Martha & the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, and The Jackson 5.

In 1968, following the riots in Detroit, Gordy moved to Los Angeles and expanded Motown's offices there. In June 1972, he relocated the entire Motown Records Company to LA, and the following year he reorganized the company into Motown Industries, an entertainment conglomerate that would include record, movie, television, and publishing divisions.

Gordy sold his interests in Motown Records to MCA and Boston Ventures in June 1988 for $61 million. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994.

Gordy has been married and divorced several times, and has seven children: Hazel Joy, Berry, Kennedy, Kerry, Rhonda, Stefan, and Terry James. Rhonda Ross Kendrick is the daughter of Gordy and his most successful female Motown artist, Diana Ross. Kennedy Gordy is better known as the Motown musician Rockwell. Gordy's daughter Hazel was once married to Jermaine Jackson.

Reference:
R&R Hall of Fame

Reference:

Motown Museum.org

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