Motown Founder Berry Gordy Jr. Announces Retirement

Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown Records, has announced his retirement.

Gordy, a Detroit, Michigan native, made the announcement onstage during Motown’s 60th-anniversary program at Orchestra Hall, the Detroit Free Press reported. Gordy discussed his planned retirement after Lee Daniels presented him with the Motown Legacy Award.

"I have come full circle," Gordy said during his announcement. "It is only appropriate [to announce this] while here in Detroit, the city where my fairy tale happened with all of you."

"For years I have dreamt about it, talked about it, threatened it, and tried to do it. In fact, this has gone on for so many years that those trying to help me retire [have] retired themselves,” he continued. “It is time for me to spend my next 60 years reflection on how fortunate I am, how much I appreciate and love all of you and how wonderful my life has been, and will continue to be."

During his speech, Gordy talked about the legacy of Motown and his hopes for how people see the record label.

"People always ask me 'What does the legacy of Motown mean to you? The answer is simply love. The Motown legacy remains the music we made for all people that reminds us that we are all the same, that music has no color. It gives voice to honest feelings and helps us understand each other."

Gordy, who turns 90 in November, helped revolutionize the world of entertainment through the creation of the Motown experience. In the 1950’s, Gordy began writing songs for local R&B acts, creating a reputation for himself as a songwriter and producer, according to his biography on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. He got his first break in 1957 when Brunswick Records purchased a song of his called “Reet Petite” for Jackie Wilson, as well as other hit songs like “Lonely Teardrops” and “To Be Loved.”

In 1959, with only an $800 loan from the Gordy Family’s Ber-Berry Co-op, Gordy set out to create a production company that streamlined the process of recording different music groups and solo artists, according to the Motown Museum. His goal was to create a place where a “kid could walk in one door an unknown off the street and come out the other a polished performer.”

Gordy launched his own company called Tammie Records, which was then changed to Tamla and then to the Gordy, Soul, and Motown imprints. He used a house in Detroit, Michigan at 2648 West Grand Boulevard as his base of operations, which he soon called “Hitsville USA.”

The first hit his record companies released was called “Way Over There” in 1960 by the group the Miracles, led by Smokey Robinson. It sold 60,000 copies and was followed by the song “Shop Around,” which reached Number Two on the pop charts. Throughout the years, Gordy worked with artists like Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, Eddie Kendricks (of the Temptations), Stevie Wonder, and Martha Reeves.

In the 1970s, Gordy cast Billy Dee Williams opposite Diana Ross in two films, Lady Sings the Blues and Mahogany, according to his biography on the Motown Museum website. The founder of Motown sold the record label in 1988, but still remained in the Motown business. He produced the film adaption of the Broadway musical, “The Wiz.” Gordy also developed the Tony Award-nominated “Motown: The Musical” in 2013.

The ceremony, hosted by actor Hill Harper, also honored Motown alumni like Suzanne DePasse, who won the Game Changer Award and singer Ne-Yo, a current Motown vice president, who won the Spirit of Motown Award, Billboard reported. BET chief Debra Lee was presented with the Esther Gordy Edwards Award of Excellence, named after Gordy’s late sister who founded the Motown Museum in the 1980s, according to the publication. The honorees were picked by the Motown Museum’s board of trustees.

At the event, Kem and The Voice-finalist Beth Griffith-Manley sang “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Ne-Yo also performed a medley of his hit songs “Because of You” and “Good Man,” according to the publication.

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.