Berry Gordy Jr.
🇺🇸 Detroit, MI
Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. revolutionized American popular music and culture, pioneering a singular blend of R&B, pop and soul - the fabled Motown Sound - that launched to fame some of the most iconic performers of the 20th century, including Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder.
Gordy first made his mark in 1957, co-writing Jackie Wilson's hit "Reet Petite" with his sister Gwen and producer Billy Davis; later that same year, he discovered the Miracles, whose leader, a preternaturally gifted singer and songwriter named Smokey Robinson, encouraged Gordy to borrow $800 from family members to start his own record company. Three years later, the Miracles delivered Detroit-based Motown's first million-selling single, "Shop Around," which Gordy co-wrote and produced.
Motown became a hotbed of talent and creativity under Gordy's leadership. He sought to create music that crossed racial and cultural boundaries, emphasizing virtues like arresting melodies, tight harmonies and infectious rhythms - a label-wide aesthetic he dubbed "The Sound of Young America." Gordy also understood the importance of grooming and nurturing talent, establishing an artist development process and providing training in singing, dancing and stage presence to ensure each Motown act possessed the skills and finesse to succeed. Last but not least, Gordy boasted an uncanny ability to identify true artistry, bringing to Motown's Hitsville USA studio a succession of prodigiously gifted writers, producers, arrangers and session players, the latter group banding together under the Funk Brothers moniker.
The list of blockbuster singles issued by Motown during the 1960s defies belief: Gordy's instincts hit paydirt time and again, yielding decade-defining anthems like the Temptations' "My Girl," the Four Tops' "Reach Out (I'll Be There)," the Supremes' "Stop! In the Name of Love" and Martha Reeves and the Vandellas' "Dancing in the Street." At the dawn of the 1970s, longtime Motown hitmakers like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder shifted the label's focus from singles to album-length statements, although Motown (which relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles in the summer of 1972) remained a vital force on radio and in nightclubs, especially as disco achieved prominence in the latter half of the decade.
Gordy sold his interests in Motown Records to MCA and Boston Ventures in 1988 for $61 million, and later divested most of his interests in Motown's Jobete publishing arm to EMI Publishing. Also in 1988, Gordy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1994 - the same year he published his memoirs, To Be Loved - he received a Grammy Trustees Award for his contributions to the recording industry.
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