Berry Gordy founded Motown Records, one of the most influential labels in pop music history and the discoverer of Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.
A onetime boxer and Korean War veteran, Gordy was an autoworker before finding success as a songwriter and producer. He met singer Jackie Wilson, who recorded “Reet Petite,” a song written by Gordy and Tyran Carlo (a.k.a. Billy Davis). It was the singer's first solo hit, and it was followed by another Gordy-Carlo single, the top 10 hit “Lonely Teardrops” and other successes. Gordy's windfall as a songwriter provided the resources to create Motown, named for the motor city. Headquartered in Detroit at “Hitsville U.S.A,” a two-story home transformed into offices and a recording studio, Motown backed mostly African American artists, but carefully sculpted their public personas so their music would appeal to a mainstream crowd. Gordy's first discovery, in 1957, was the Miracles, led by Smokey Robinson, a consistent hit-maker who also became an important figure behind the scenes at the label. Motown also produced hits by the Jackson 5, Temptations, Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas and many others.
In 1972, Gordy moved the company to Los Angeles and became a film producer, beginning with the Billie Holiday biography “Lady Sings the Blues,” starring label hit-maker Diana Ross in her acting debut. It was nominated for five Academy Awards. It was followed by “Mahogany,” directed by Gordy himself after the original director was dismissed.
Gordy has eight children, including a daughter by Ross. In 1988, Gordy sold Motown for $61 million. He spoke at the 2009 memorial service for Michael Jackson, calling the singer “simply the greatest entertainer that ever lived.” His label is now part of Universal-Motown; Stevie Wonder is the only artist to remain from its early glory days. Gordy now resides in Palm Desert.