Founder and owner of the Tamla-Motown family record labels, Berry Gordy, Jr., established Motown Records as one of the most important independent labels in the early '60s. Assembling an industrious staff of songwriters, producers, and musicians, Motown Records built one of the most impressive rosters of artist in the history of pop music and became the largest and most successful independent record company in the United State by 1964.
On November 28, 1929 Berry Gordy was born at Detroit's Harper Hospital. Gordy was the seventh child born to Berry and Bertha Gordy. The Gordys an ambitious middle-class family with roots in Georgia farming and retailing.. The family moved to Detroit in the 1922 with their first three children. It was here that they established a successful painting and construction business that allowed the family to purchase a commercial building on the corner of St. Antoine and Farnsworth. Berry Gordy Sr. also opened the Booker T. Washington grocery store and from which he instilled the values of frugality, discipline, family unity and hard work that were so dear to Booker T. Washington. After studying business in college, Bertha co-founded the Friendship Mutual Life Insurance Company.
Berry Gordy dropped out of school in the eleventh grade to become a professional boxer. At one time he even fought on the same card with the Brown Bomber Joe Louis at Detroit's Olympia Stadium. He ended a his respectable career as a featherweight in 1950. After serving in the Army in Korea from 1951-1953 his love for jazz caused him to open up the 3-D Record Mart - House of Jazz. To obsessed with his own love of Jazz, Berry was to stubborn to stock the Blues records the neighborhood craved. So in 1955 the store went bankrupt and was forced to close.
Berry married married Thelma Coleman and quickly had three children. It was after the closing of the record store that Gordy went to work on the assembly line at Ford's Lincoln-Mercury plant. By 1957, he had quit that job to become a professional songwriter.
The Flame Show Bar opened in 1949 and was located at the corner of John R and Canfield. The Flame was the showplace for top Black talent in Detroit during the 50s. Billie Holiday, T-Bone Walker, Wynonie Harris were a few of the many great black entertainers that appeared there. The Berry's were in charge of the photo concessions at the Flame. Sisters Gwen and Anna took the photos with brothers George and Robert developing the film. It was during this time the Al Green the club's owner invited Gordy to write songs for the artists he managed which included Jackie Wilson. Berry teaming with Roquel "Billy" Davis began writing at Green's office. Berry would eventually bring sister Gwen in and the trio would write several bestsellers "to Be Loved," "Lonely Teardrops," "That's Why (I Love You So)" and "I'll Be Satisfied" establishing themselves as hit writers. At this time Gordy started doing some of the producing.
Berry and Raynoma Gordy
One day Raynoma Liles and her sister Alice auditioned for Gordy. Not only did Gordy meet his next wife Raynoma, but he found a lady who could help him write hit records. Known around the company as Miss Ray, she had perfect pitch and could write lead sheets. They soon formed the Rayber Music Writing Company and for $100 they would do whatever was necessary to help a young singer make a record, be it writing, arranging, rehearsing or recording a demo. In this way they were able to find new talent. They also put together the Rayber Voices, a studio group that backed most of Motown's first acts on their early recordings.
In late 1957, Gordy had his first success with "Reet Petite," which was recorded by Detroit born Jackie Wilson, who had replaced Clyde McPhatter as lead singer of the Dominoes. The next year he wrote "Lonely Teardrops" for Wilson.
Motown Alumni Association
Motown Albums Discography