By Len "Muddy" Mardeusz
Berry Gordy Jr. : A Self-Made Visionary
If there is any place where the legacy of doo wop was kept alive and simmering in rhythm and blues it was in Detroit. A label was started in 1959, when Berry Gordy Jr. (at first called Tamla), released a single called, “Reet Petite”.
Gordy wrote the song for Jackie Wilson. He received a family loan of $800 and set up his label in a two story house in Detroit. Berry Gordy then set up a recording studio in the basement. He put a sign outside in front of the house that read, “Hitsville,USA”. Just a meer two years later, in 1961, Berry Gordy’s release of the Miracles “Shop Around” astoundingly became a # 1 R & B hit record. He also released the Marvelettes, “Please, Mr. Postman” which jumped to #1 on the Pop Charts. Motown released their first hits, with R&B and Pop Records. That same year, Gordy signed the Supremes, Stevie Wonder and the Temptation. A threesome that Berry Gordy would build on.
Berry Gordy’s dream was to establish a label crossover between R&B and Pop music. Under his guidance the label began to slowly thrive, it had all the necessary ingredients. Berry Gordy put together a great roster of young artists; an outstanding production team in the persons of
Lamont Dozier and Eddie and Brian Holland. They were known as Holland/Dozier/Holland. Gordy put together a house band, the Funk Brothers who were central in establishing “the Motown sound”. As an independent Motown, Berry Gordy’s label was able to achieve what so very few main stream record companies could: credibility with fans while charting top hits.
In the beginning of the Supremes, there were some false starts—Gordy who had signed the female quartet, decided to move Diana Ross to lead vocals. He then assigned the group to his incredible writing and production team Holland/Dozier/Holland. It was the right move. The team gave the group their first #1 hit, “Where Did Our Love Go.”
Berry Gordy had the idea, vision to foresee somewhat further up the music road, where the fans R&B, and Pop genres all crossed paths. The foresight allowed him to build a multi-billion Independent Record company, Motown Records. The many African-American artists that were
a part of Motown Records is immense, their musical talents astounding. The Chi-Lites, the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Supremes, the Commodores, this Jackson 5, Michael Jackson, Mary Wells and so many more. In 1963, Berry signed a music prodigy, a 12 yr. old Steveland Morris. Gordy dubbed him Stevie Wonder and the rest is history. Smokey Robinson, who Berry Gordy called the “Soul of Motown” , whose big hit “Tears Of A Clown” brought the label in to middle America.
Today that two story frame house, with a recording studio in the basement and sigh that reads, “HITSVILLE USA” is still standing, now as a Historical site. A tribute to a young man who had a dream, Berry Gordy,Jr. Berry Gordy has been inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Song Writers Hall of Fame and he has received a Pioneer Award. Jimmy Webb said, “Berry Gordy not only created a record label he created a genre.”
Len “Muddy” Mardeusz