Musical Appreciation ► Happy Birthday, Berry Gordy, Jr.
The Motown Museum in 2010, taken by author.

Dateline November 28, 1929 – Berry Gordy, Jr. is born in Detroit, Michigan, the city he would later rename Motown.

The broad contours of Gordy’s life are well-known: He was the 7th of 8 children born to Berry Gordy II and Bertha Fuller Gordy, who had come up to Detroit in the early ’20s to work in the car business. Berry dropped out of school and opted for a career as a boxer, which he abandoned when he was drafted for service in Korea. When he returned from the service, he started writing songs. His first hit was “Reet Petite” for Jackie Wilson, which started Gordy off in show biz. After a few more songwriting credits, which include the smash “Lonely Teardrops,” he decided to try his hand at producing. He found a Detroit Doo Wop group called The Matadors, renamed The Miracles, which started Gordy’s roster of artists.

The street sign in front of the Motown Museum

In 1959 Gordy borrowed $800 from his family and started up his own record label, Tamla Records. The first record issued on Tamla was “Come To Me,” by The Miracles and written by Marv Johnson, who later wrote “You Got What It Takes.” It wasn’t until the 3rd release, “Bad Girl” by The Miracles, that Motown was officially launched as a record label.

New artists and new hits followed: Barrett Strong‘s “Money (That’s What I Want),” and The Miracles‘ “Shop Around,” The Marvelettes‘ “Please Mr. Postman,” Mary Wells, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Jimmy Ruffin, The Contours, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Commodores, The Velvelettes, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, and many more.

Growing up in Detroit in the ’60s, it made one feel great to know the city had its own record label. When The Beatles started covering Motown tunes, we knew for sure that Motown had arrived worldwide.

However, the good times couldn’t last. In the early ’70s Gordy moved the Motown base of operations to Los Angeles, and things have never been the same since, for Detroit or the label.

However, it’s always been about the music. Here’s a Berry Gordy Jukebox for your listening pleasure. Get ready to sing and dance along, because you won’t be able to help yourself. And that, my friends, demonstrates the power of Motown.

About Headly Westerfield

Calling himself “A liberally progressive, sarcastically cynical, iconoclastic polymath,” Headly Westerfield has been a professional writer all his adult life.

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