Berry Gordy | Tony Spina photo, Wayne State University, Walter P. Reuther Library
On Dec. 1, 1987, Michigan Gov. James Blanchard and Detroit Mayor Coleman A. Young, along with Motown recording artists Smokey Robinson and Eddie Kendricks, attended a ceremony to support the dedication of the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit. The event featured the unveiling of a Michigan Historical Marker at the site.
In 1959, armed with an $800 loan from his family and a million dollars’ worth of vision, Berry Gordy Jr. founded the organization that would come to be called Motown Records. It was an important chapter in his family’s history.
The Gordys arrived in Detroit from rural Georgia in the 1920s during a period called the Great Migration, where African Americans from the South looked for improved economic opportunities in northern cities like Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City. During the 1930s and ‘40s, the family operated a grocery store, a printing company and were active members of Bethel A.M.E. church, one of the city’s oldest congregations.
Having grown up in metro Detroit during the 1950s and 1960s, Blanchard was a Detroit music fan. In 1985, the Pleasant Ridge Democrat declared that Aretha Franklin’s voice “a natural resource.” The following year, Blanchard declared July 29, 1986, as “Four Tops Day” celebrating the Detroit quartet that helped to drive the Motown sound.
The Motown Museum, located on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, was founded by one of Berry’s older sisters, Esther, in 1985. She died in 2011. She had been married for many years to George Edwards, who served as a Democratic member of the Michigan House of Representatives during the 1950’s, ‘60s and ‘70s.
The record label’s first No. 1 hit was, “Please Mr. Postman” recorded by the Marvelettes in 1961 when John F. Kennedy was president, John Swainson was Michigan governor and a gallon of automotive gas was about 35 cents a gallon. It was one of dozens of Motown hits that topped Billboard magazine charts.
The museum is a popular destination site for metro Detroit residents and tourists from around the world. During a recent Rolling Stones tour stop in Detroit, members of the band and road crew visited the location.
Berry Gordy Jr. turned 92 on Sunday.
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