Esther Gordy Edwards

*The world mourns as an American institution has lost another pioneer, Esther Gordy Edwards. There is not a corner of civilization that has not been exposed to and touched in some way by the magic of the music created by the original Motown Records regime.

If people don’t particularly know the individual names of those who were the foundational building blocks of that musical empire, they certainly know the names of the songs it brought to the world like “What’s Going On,” “Stop In The Name Of Love,” “Dancing In The Street,” “Reach Out I’ll Be There,” “Tears Of A Clown,” ‘I Want You Back,” “My Girl,” and “My Cherie Amour.” Gordy Edwards helped guide the careers of Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, and Stevie Wonder.

This past week we learned sadly of the death of Gordy Edwards, the eldest sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. She was 91.

The second of eight siblings, Gordy Edwards was supportive from the beginning serving in many capacities, including Director of Artists Personal Management Division, and as vice president of Motown’s main offices from 1961 to 1972. When the company moved to California, she remained in Michigan, and in 1985 founded the Motown Historical Museum at the exact same site on Detroit’s West Grand Boulevard where all the early hits were recorded. It has become one of Detroit’s most popular tourist attractions.

During the 1970’s Gordy Edwards became the first woman to serve on the board of the Detroit Bank of the Commonwealth, and the first woman elected to the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce. Her late husband, George Edwards, an accountant who helped manage Motown’s finances, also served in the Michigan state legislature.

Gordy Edwards’ passing comes on the heels of the death of sibling number four, George Gordy, just three weeks earlier. An entrepreneur in his own right, he joined forces with his brother’s label and was co-writer of several songs recorded by Motown artists.

A brief family chronicle: The parents of the Gordy clan – Berry Sr. “Pops”, and Bertha – from whom the siblings undoubtedly got their entrepreneurial spirit, both passed away in 1978 and 1975 respectively. Sibling number one Fuller – who served as Motown’s Vice President of Corporate Affairs, was a member of Hollywood’s Chamber of Commerce, and also a professional bowler – passed away in 1991. He is remembered each year at a bowling fundraiser called “Friends of Fuller Strikefest.” Sibling number five Loucye headed Motown’s Jobete Music Publishing before she passed in 1965. Sibling number six Gwen Gordy Fuqua who co-founded Anna Records with her sister Anna and brought many artists to Motown when the labels merged, died in 1999. She was also once married to Harvey Fuqua of The Moonglows.

To date, sibling number three, Anna Gordy Gaye, now becomes the matriarch of the family. As co-founder of Anna Records, she was married to Marvin Gaye and co-wrote many songs with him. Sibling number seven, Berry, who now becomes the patriarch of the family, is currently working on a multi-million dollar Broadway stage production of the Motown story. Sibling number eight, Robert, is still active and can be found on the golf course on any given day. He was vice president of Motown’s Jobete Music Publishing and is remembered for his role as “Hawk” the drug dealer in the movie “Lady Sings The Blues” which starred Diana Ross.

One can only imagine the weight of sorrow the entire Gordy family must be feeling not only for their own losses, but also for all the many artists, musicians, and others who were so instrumental in building Motown’s enduring legacy. On the close passing of both her great-aunt and great-uncle in such a short amount of time, Karla Gordy Bristol said, “This is an extra difficult time for our family.”

Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Steuben Pub., available at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara, CA., and Smiley’s in Carson CA. Visit the author at (213) 220-8101