Milestones For Berry Gordy at 90 and Motown at 60 – A Memorable Year in 2019

Berry Gordy, Motown at 60, Photo: Courtesy of Renee Sudderth
Mr. Berry Gordy, Photo: Renee Sudderth

This year marked two momentous events, one 90 years ago,  the other 60 years ago, one, a heart-beat, the other, a musical-sound beat that was heard all around the world. That extraordinary heart beat belonged to Berry Gordy, Jr., and the sound beat that had everyone “Dancing In the Streets” was Motown. This entrepreneur, record executive, record producer, songwriter, film and television producer, Broadway Production genius, Mr. Berry Gordy, Jr., will celebrate his 90th birthday on Thanksgiving Day – November 28, 2019.

There have been numerous celebrations (Motown 60: A Grammy Celebration; “Hitsville: The Making of Motown” on Showtime TV; Berry Gordy Square at an Intersection in Los Angeles) all year honoring the 60th Anniversary of the record company Gordy founded and turned into the international empire known as Motown Record Corporation.

I was privileged to witness first hand all the love, excitement, professionalism, classiness, and brilliance that Motown has shared with the world for 60 years.

Renee Sudderth, Splash Magazine Photojournalist spending the weekend with the Motown Family (Marvin Gaye; Stevie Wonder; The Miracles, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips; The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and The Vandellas) while many have gone on – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

On a very special weekend, September 20 – 22, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan, there was a celebration in the same city where it all began for Mr. Gordy and his seven siblings and their parents, Mr. Berry Gordy Sr., and Mrs. Bertha Gordy. This family joined together to assist with Berry’s Motown fairy tale back in 1959 when life was completely different, while his cousin, Jimmy Carter, age 95, later known as the 39th President of the United States was making his mark in Georgia. Their grandfathers were half-brothers.

A poster given to us Motown supporters of young Berry Gordy starting his Masterpiece back in the 50’s.

This weekend was known as “The Motown 60 Weekend” started on Friday, September 20, commemorating the 60th anniversary of Motown Record Corporation with “The Friends of Fuller Gordy” (Berry’s belated eldest brother and professional bowler) Strikefest event featuring bowling, karaoke and dinner at the Thunderbowl Lanes in Allen Park, Michigan.

On Saturday, I stopped by the Motown Museum at Hitsville U.S.A. and watched all the visitors from around the world and the Museum’s employees preparing for Sunday’s historical event.

The house that Berry Gordy “built” for Superstars whether you was a singer, songwriter, producer, composer, musician, choreographer, model instructor or office worker – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

Afterward, I drove around Detroit because so many events were taking place.  Mr. Gordy and many Detroit natives, who now live in Los Angeles, returned to the city where many of their lives were transformed forever because of Mr. Gordy’s vision and God’s directions.

Eddie Holland Sr. of Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown songwriters two children (Eddina Camille and Eddie Holland Jr); Renee Sudderth and the ladies from Los Angeles – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

I asked Berry’s nephew, Robert Gordy Jr., what does he think of this Motown Legacy since he has been there since day one.  He replied, “Due to the elaborate and comprehensive complexity of the question, it’s too much to narrow down. It’s impossible! My answer would have to be “The WHOLE THING!” from even “BEFORE” the beginning until NOW! That’s the BEST and ONLY answer I could give you!!”

Also included were Mr. Gordy’s International friends who came from around the world.

“Welcome To Mr. Berry Gordy’s Hometown” of Detroit, Michigan – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

At the beginning of his Motown reign, he wanted to create music with no racial barriers for everyone to enjoy this universal language of music. This was proof of his success and the Motown music will continue forever!!!

Another highlight for me, personally, was the Greater Grace Temple, the same church where Aretha Franklin, “The Queen of Soul” was eulogized exactly one year ago and where Rosa Parks, “The Mother of the Freedom Movement” was eulogized in October 2005. Greater Grace Temple, under the leadership of Bishop Charles H. Ellis, III and minister of Music, Elder Deerico Loyd were having an “Elevate Music Conference” with many artists as well as the Grammy Stellar and Dove Award Winner, Donald Lawrence. I thoroughly enjoyed hearing him and others.

H.B. Dixson Jr., Gospel Musical Director in Flint, MI and Deeico Loyd the Musical Genius at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit, MI who help created this Musical Conference during Motown Weekend- Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth
At Greater Grace Temple Musical Conference – I walked in the church and heard a female voice calling my full name, shockingly it was Carrie Jackson Brown from my hometown in Tennessee while surprisingly I see my former Atlanta, Georgia choir director H.B. Dixson Jr., and now Director of Voices of Mt Zion MBC in Flint, MI- A great reunion for us just like the Motown Family Reunion Weekend – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

The big day and night was on Sunday, September 22!!! I was on my way to the Motown Museum where the groundbreaking ceremony for the 50-million-dollar Motown Museum Expansion, which will be “A Bold Future Built On Inspiration”. It will include interactive exhibits, a performance art theater, a recording studio, etc.

The Chairwoman and CEO of the Motown Museum is Mrs. Robin R. Terry whose grandmother, Esther Gordy Edward (sister of Berry) created this museum. Throughout this special weekend, Mrs. Terry’s pretty smile showed she was so proud to see the success of this weekend.

Mrs. Robin Terry, The Chairwoman and CEO of the Motown Museum speaks at the Groundbreaking Ceremony while Otis Williams of the Temptation and Shelly Berger, the legendary manager-producer-director greets each other – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

One story I heard Mr. Berry Gordy tell over the weekend was when it was time to pack up and move Motown from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972. He said, he was leaving everything behind or throwing items away and his sister, Esther was coming right behind him picking up the items, saving the items and that’s how the museum began, when those items became memorabilia.  

Now, 60 years later they are going to have more items added and that’s why, instead of having one house as a museum, they will have three houses joined together to form this Motown Complex.

A beautiful Motown Museum Expansion Groundbreaking including L to R – Jimmy Settles, Jim Vella, Elesha Bridges, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Berry Gordy, Robin Terry, U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Ethan Davidson, Faye Nelson – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

The atmosphere around Motown was so exciting. I was talking on my cell phone to my father who introduced me to the Motown Sounds in the 60’s when he and my mother used to play all those smooth, great beat songs and it stays with me today, even when I perform Karaoke. I was making my father feel part of my Motown journey, but then I saw someone and I told him I had to go. 

It was the beautiful Mrs. Claudette Rogers Robinson, the First Lady of Motown,

Mrs. Claudette Rogers Robinson placing herself in the Motown History Books – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

because she was the first woman to sign a contract that sang with the Miracles (later known as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles) and gave Motown their first million-selling song, “Shop Around”.  Also, she received another title, Mrs. William “Smokey” Robinson for 27 years.  Mr. Smokey Robinson was the Vice-President at Motown as well as the chief songwriter and producer for the Miracles and many other artists. Smokey, a few months from being 80 years old is still performing concerts to this day.

I was so happy to see the many faces of the Motown family including their children who several were representing their mother or father who are no longer with us.

Renee Sudderth posing with Marvin Gaye III who says he love working in the film industry instead of singing like his father, the great late Marvin Gaye who was married to Berry’s sister, the late Anna Ruby Gordy Gaye – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

Suzanne De Passe- Entertainment Executive and so many other titles but she was a major part of the Jackson 5 career, I told her I was writing a Splash magazine on them (last article-GOGGLE Splash Magazine Jacksons 50) and she was so delighted and says to this day she is still proud of them all – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mrs. Claudette Rogers Robinson – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

Donnie Simpson-Radio DJ, Television and Movie Personality posing with the Father and Son team of Paul Riser Sr who received an Honor Award this weekend for his many prolific arrangements and being one of the legendary trombonist “Funk Brothers” at Motown – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

I discovered several of the artists could not attend this weekend because they were performing, so that was a good thing that they are still performing after 60 years. I was thrilled when I saw Berry Gordy, the Founder of Motown. I felt a lot of pride seeing him. I was really caught, trying to decide between two things. First, I have always been interested in interviewing Otis Williams of the harmony-fancy dance moves – Temptations, because he is the sole surviving member of the original Temptations.

The Temptations performed beautifully at the Sunday’s Tribute while I was one of the first to stand up and start grooving; Otis William is 2nd from the left – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

So, when I saw him after the event, he was leaving going one way and Berry Gordy was leaving going the opposite way. I stood in the middle of the aisle and kept looking both ways trying to decide who I should go talk to or take a photo. Finally, I made the decision to go to the Boss Man, Mr. Gordy.  

When I approached Mr. Berry Gordy on Sept 21, I shook his hand and said I want to be the first to wish you Happy Birthday (Nov 28), he was delighted, surprised and smiled – Photo Courtesy of Gary Hunter of The Shot News and Detroit News Media

This was really an historical moment watching the Motown family and the groundbreaking ceremony.

Kerry Gordy, (Berry’s son also known as Rockwell) and Dr. Tae Yun Kim who spoke with so much enthusiasm and excitement that Berry Gordy had to go hug her – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

After the ceremony, many stayed behind talking, and then a group of us drove by the childhood home of Aretha Franklin and her father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin’s Church, New Bethel Baptist Church.  

Aretha Franklin’s Childhood House – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth
The Los Angeles Ladies, Circuit Court Judge Craig Strong toured inside the church that once was the Rev. C.L. Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church and where Dr. Martin L. King Jr., visited and later agreed with Berry Gordy to record the “I Have A Dream” Speech – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

The sun was setting, and I was on my way to the Orchestra Hall where the Motown Museum Hitsville-Honors Awards and Tribute Concert was being held to benefit the renovation of the Motown Museum.  There was a red carpet, and then dinner was served for Mr. Gordy and other honorees.   I was so excited and could hardly believe that I was in the Motor City celebrating the Motown Sounds and the Motown Family.

Mr. Curtis and Mrs. Robin Terry who is the Chairwoman/CEO of the Motown Museum – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

Hill Harper, an actor, did a great job as host of this phenomenal show. I loved all the Motown artists that performed – Martha Reeves; The Velvelettes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Kem, Beth Griffith-Manley; Ne-Yo; Nuclassica; Frederic Yonnet, Doug E. Fresh, Big Sean and Special Appearances by Lee Daniels, Donnie Simpson, Allee Willis, John Platt and Awards given to Berry Gordy, Suzanne De Passe, Debra Lee, Shelly Berger, Paul Riser Sr. and performer Ne-Yo. This night had so many unforgettable moments that I will treasure forever.

The Motown Acts join together in Honor of the Boss Man – Berry Gordy – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

But the high point for me was when Mr. Berry Gordy took the stage to tell us his life story and to let the audience know that at his age and at this Motown 60th Anniversary tribute, he was finally retiring from his long journey, and no longer wearing so many entertainment hats. This was Mr. Gordy’s night and he enjoyed himself.  He said, he felt he had come full circle. By this time, I was right at the stage taking photos and crying at the same time because he was smiling and enjoying this special night. And I was still witnessing History and enjoying myself too!!!

I can always say I was there on the night that the Legendary Motown Founder, Berry Gordy retired from show business and I saw him dancing and not writing, producing and managing as he has done for many decades.

Berry Gordy feeling good and dancing in celebration of his Honor to “Sign Seal Deliver I’m Yours” (artist Stevie Wonder) and we sang Happy Birthday – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth
Tonight Mr. Berry Gordy retired so now he can do whatever he wants “Break it on down Mr. Retiree” – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

The conclusion of this amazing weekend was the beautiful “Soul In One” Golf Classic where everyone was relaxing, playing golf, eating and laughing. They enjoyed a dinner afterward, but by that time I was flying back to Atlanta.

“Soul In One” Golf Classic at Tom O’Shanter Country Club – (Motown Legends William “Mickey” Stevenson and Brian Holland) – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth.
The Big Golfer, Robin Terry, Elesha Bridgers (sisters and Berry’s great nieces), Renee Sudderth – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

I am so thankful I had this opportunity to witness history, feel the love that the Motown family, friends, the donors and the city of Detroit displayed while commemorating Motown’s 60th Anniversary, the Motown Museum, and acknowledging Mr. Berry Gordy’s approaching his 90- year milestone.

L to R – Ms Lady; Renee Sudderth (Splash Magazine); Dillon Freeman Gorman (back) (son of Freddie Gorman of the Originals; Lawrence Payton Jr (one of the Four Tops who replaced his late father); Motown supporter; Robert Gordy Jr.,(Berry’s nephew); Tosha Owens (Singer), and Motown Supporters – Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

We will never forget how Mr. Gordy made his dream become a reality and how he made the dreams of many others’ come true, turning them into Superstars and making them a part of this legendary Motown Fairy-tale story. What an amazing expedition for a United States Army Veteran, Boxer, Record Store Owner, Automobile Worker and the Founder of this Motown Empire. Well Done!!!

Make sure you visit the expansion of the Motown Museum known as Hitsville Next in 2020 that will make the future generations always feel connected with Berry Gordy’s Motown dream and giving them hope to make their dreams come true. 

The Display of the Future for Motown

“The Young Folks” – a song sung by the Jacksons 5 on their 2nd release Motown No. 1 Hit when they were young but this day these Young Folks sung “Dancing In The Streets” in Honor of Mr. Berry Gordy’s and his Motown Legacy – The young and old will always be connected to Berry Gordy- Photo Courtesy of Renee Sudderth

18 Comments

  1. Great Article! A wonderful event! So many celebrities showed up for Mr. Gordy. Would love to visit Detroit one day! Thanks Ms. Sudderth for this awesome article. The pics are great!

  2. ROBERT GORDY JR., Nov 29, 2019 – VIA FACEBOOK – Great article! Renee Sudderth! You did an excellent job! I could see everything that You talked about, while on Your historic journey in Detroit! Thanks! For the magnificent ride with You!

  3. CAROLINE TATE – Nov 29, 2019 – Via Email – This is one of the most astonishing articles you have written as of yet. It was an amazing story on Berry Gordy’ s journey with Motown and the future of the Motown Museum Expansion. I truly enjoy the pictures that allowed your readers to witness how the African American culture are ageless. Berry Gordy looked phenomenal. It is magnificent to see a prodigy to retire from giving the world the greatness music ever and look handsome and ready to move on to his next journey God has for his life. Well written my friend.

  4. DEANNA B. SANTO – Nov 29, 2019 – VIA FACEBOOK – Congratulations Mr. Berry Gordy aka Mr. Motown. Mr. Motown. Yes! The Handsome Talented Gentleman. Happy Blessed Birthday and Congratulations. Much Love To You Mr. Gordy🎈🎉🎊🎶😊❤️

  5. LISA MELTON – Nov 30, 2019 – VIA FACEBOOK – Congrats Mr. Berry Gordy on reaching this amazing milestone!! 🎉🎈🎊🎁🎂

  6. Thanks Ms. Renee for writing an article on the Iconic Man Mr. Berry Gordy. I felt like I was there.
    Happy Birthday and Thanks for adding a Musical Magnificent part of our African American Heritage!

  7. Renee, your articles are always a joy to read. Motown music brings back so many great memories for me. It was like a secret weapon. Always a crowd pleaser no matter where we were playing. Music is a universal language and Motown is the proof! Learning we share the same birthday, Nov 28th…made my day!

  8. ROSE MARY HALL – Nov 30, 2019 – VIA FACEBOOK – HAPPY 90TH BIRTHDAY MR BERRY GORDY! THANK YOU FOR GIVING US SO MANY TALENTED PEOPLE IN MUSIC THROUGH THE YEARS! Jerry & Rose Mary Hall – Alcoa, TN

  9. DR. PATRICIA BENNETT – Nov 30, 2019 – VIA TEXT – Renee you never fail to deliver. This is an historic moment in time and you captured it eloquently and with flair. I wish that I had been there. I have had the opportunity to visit the original Hitsville Museum. You have a to visit it in person and feel the history. I hope that uniqueness and historical flavor is retained in the new structure.

  10. CECELIA CAMPBELL – Dec 1, 2019 – I really really enjoyed reading your article. It was so interesting. It took me way back when I first heard the Motown Music.

  11. B.K. Dec 3, 2019 – VIA EMAIL -You add a unique point of view and what you do is so appreciated by everyone, including me.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*