*The names ‘Detroit’ and ‘Motown’ are synonymous thanks to Berry Gordy. Superstar Mary (‘My Guy’) Wells, The Supremes, and The Four Tops dominated the Motown brand in the early days.
Unfortunately, most of the new generation know nothing about the impact the Motown Corporation’s other label brands made on us such as ‘Gordy,’ ‘Tamla,’ and ‘Soul’ that featured other superstars who recorded songs like ‘Please Mr. Postman,’ Do You Love Me,’‘My Girl,’ ‘Tracks Of My Tears,’ ‘What’s Going On,’ ‘Dancin’ In The Street,’ ‘Uptight’ and so many, many more (not to mention Motown’s Soul label that featured Gladys Knight & The Pips, Jimmy [‘What Becomes Of The Brokenhearted’] Ruffin, Jr. Walker & The All Stars [‘Shotgun’]; and other great talents like The Velvelettes on the VIP label [‘Needle In A Haystack’]).
But let me say, back in the day when we saw those labels we would buy without question. It was all about quality, innovation, and progression. It was what those labels represented. Realizing, looking back on it all, how much Mr. Gordy sacrificed makes me appreciate him that much more. Before meeting him personally, I only knew him through the eyes of (if you will) the “Children of Motown,” the stars that I was fortunate to meet, and of course his sister (my heart) the late Gwen Gordy Fuqua who signed me to an exclusive songwriters’ contract.
To this day I can still remember the weather in Detroit (pre-Motown) when I first heard “Lonely Teardrops” and other songs that Berry Gordy was writing for Jackie Wilson, Etta James and others. The seasons seemed to cradle the songs as they were released like a newborn baby. And then after Motown was firmly established the spirit remained. For instance, Marvin and Tammi’s “Ain’t Nothin’ Like The Real Thing” was delivered by the newborn stork into the spring of 1968 just as we were beginning to open up our windows after a long cold winter. It was so refreshing, and we owe that new birth, that aura, to Motown.
It wasn’t so much skill as it was will. The most inspiring thing about Motown was that we got to watch the talent grow, and each new song revealed something new…and as the artists grew, we grew too! To name just a few: Look how Smokey Robinson developed to sing “Ooo Baby Baby,” Marvin Gaye to “Ain’t That Peculiar,” Martha Reeves to “Nowhere To Run,” The Supremes “Stop In The Name Of Love,” and The Temptations “Since I Lost My Baby.” All this was done in a very short time frame and it was like magic to us. I now look at it more as purpose…it was meant to be.
After Motown (the company) made the exodus from Detroit to Los Angeles, I (a native Detroiter) was determined to try and pick up where they left off. Motown music as we knew it was the heart throb of our communities and when they left and the music began to change, there was a definite void. I started my own record label as did many others to try and hold on to our inheritance – like Country is to Nashville; and Zydeco is to New Orleans – we are Detroit/Motown! That will never change! We owe it to posterity to preserve what was the foundation of the whole Motown genre.
So at this juncture; the recent passing of Berry Gordy’s sister Anna Ruby Gordy Gaye; and the play “Motown The Musical” headed for the West Coast; I want to salute Mr. Gordy for all he’s endured and (knowing his track record) will continue to do ’til the very end. My hope is that those label brands will someday be revived. Keep on pushin’!! See you at the next Fuller Gordy “Strikefest!”