HAPPY 93rd BIRTHDAY: Berry Gordy: The Visionary Who Made Motown.
A company that was started with a loan of $800 went on to help shape the sound of the 20th century. We could only be talking about Motown Records, founded on January 12, 1959 by Berry Gordy Jr, who was born in the city he helped make synonymous with soulfulness, Detroit, on November 28, 1929. Unfailingly spritely, just ahead of his 90th birthday, Gordy announced his retirement at the Hitsville Honours ceremony, safe in the knowledge that his achievements will last forever.
Gordy built his empire on his early success as a songwriter, notably of “Reet Petite,” “Lonely Teardrops” and others for perhaps the pre-eminent black music entertainer of the late 1950s, Jackie Wilson. Detroit, the Motor City itself, was sharing the fruits of America’s post-war economic boom, and there were possibilities for a young and savvy business creative, as we’d call them now. But no one, surely not even Berry himself, could have known exactly the global dimensions that those possibilities would assume in the coming decades.
Gordy’s genius was to adopt the assembly line methods of both Detroit and Hollywood to the music industry, a topic I explored in my interview with Allan Slutsky, the producer of one of the best documentaries about the record label in the 1960s, Standing in the Shadows of Motown.