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Berry Gordy, Jr.

Gordy, Berry, Jr., 1929–, African-American music-industry executive, b. Detroit. After stints in the army and as a professional boxer, Gordy opened a Detroit record store and began to write songs and produce records. He founded (1959) Motown Records, and its success made him the first African-American owner of a top recording company. Gordy transformed the company into a music empire, developing the "Motown sound," a pop-, gospel-, and rhythm-and-blues-inflected crossover version of soul that revolutionized American popular music in the 1960s. His first big hit, "Shop Around" (1961) by Smokey Robinson (with whom Gordy wrote several songs) and the Miracles, was followed by hundreds of chart-topping singles by various artists. Gordy discovered or developed many of the era's great performers—including also the Four Tops, the Temptations, Jackie Wilson, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, and Diana Ross and the Supremes—backing them with a talented staff of in-house songwriters, producers, and musicians. In the 1970s Gordy moved Motown to Los Angeles and began producing films, notably Lady Sings the Blues (1972) starring Diana Ross. He sold Motown in 1988, the year he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

See his autobiography (1994); V. Aronson, The History of Motown (2000); G. Posner, Motown: Music, Money, Sex, and Power (2003).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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