Berry Gordy Biography
Berry Gordy, Jr. (born November 28, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan) is an American record
producer, and the founder of the Motown record label and its many subsidiaries.
Gordy was the seventh of eight children born to
the middle class family of Berry Gordy, Sr., and Bertha Gordy, who had
relocated to Detroit from Milledgeville, Georgia in 1922. He dropped out
of high school in the eleventh grade to become a professional boxer, a
career he followed until 1950 when he was drafted by the United States
Army for the Korean War.
Berry Gordy's Achievements
After his return from Korea in 1953, he married Thelma Coleman. He
developed his interest in music by writing songs and opening the 3-D
Record Mart, a record store featuring jazz music. The store was
unsuccessful and Gordy sought work at the Lincoln-Mercury plant, but his
family connections put him in touch with Al Green, owner of the Flame Show
Bar talent club, where he met Jackie Wilson. In 1957 Wilson recorded "Reet
Petite," a song Gordy had co-written with his sister Gwen and Billy Davis,
which became a modest hit. Wilson recorded four more songs co-written by
Gordy over the next two years.
Gordy reinvested his songwriting
successes into producing. In 1957 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 on December 14, 1959. Barrett Strong's
"Money (That's What I Want)," besides appearing on Tamla, charted on
Gordy's Anna label from February 1960. The Miracles' hit "Shop Around"
peaked nationally at #1 on the R&B charts in late 1960 and at #2 on
the pop charts in early 1961 and established Motown as an independent
company worthy of notice.
Unlike most producers of the time, Gordy did not cultivate Caucasian
artists, although right from the start some white artists were signed,
such as Nick and the Jagusars, The Valadiers, Debbie Dean, and Connie
Vandyke. He did however have several white employees at Hitsville USA. He
promoted African-American artists but carefully controlled their public
image, managing dress, manners, and choreography for crossover appeal. His
incredible 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
led by Diana Ross, 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 Five.
In 1968 Gordy moved to Los Angeles, California and expanded Motown's
offices there, following the riots in Detroit. 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
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 1990 and published an autobiography, To Be Loved, in 1994.
Gordy fathered a daughter, Rhonda Ross Kendrick, with singer Diana Ross, and well as a
son, Kennedy Gordy, better known as the Motown musician Rockwell.
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