There have been more than 50 books about Motown and its hitmakers published over the past 40 years, from autobiographies to coffee-table celebrations, and much in between. Ranking them by popularity is impossible, since neither chart positions nor sales figures are available.
Berry Gordy’s autobiography, To Be Loved, must stand in a class of its own, because without him, there would be no Motown to write about.
This selection aims to cover books with a wide perspective, and since it only runs to ten slots – alphabetical by author – there are no artist memoirs or biographies included. For the record, there have been autobiographies by the Jacksons, Michael Jackson, Rick James, Gladys Knight, Martha Reeves, Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross. Divided Soul isn’t technically a Marvin Gaye autobiography, but author David Ritz came close.
The Supremes’ Mary Wilson is responsible for two memoirs, plus her latest book about the trio’s costumes, Supreme Glamour. In Temptations, Otis Williams writes about the group from his perspective; another member, Richard Street, penned an autobiography, too.
There have been several books about Stevie Wonder but, alas, nothing by the superstar himself. There is, however, an authorised biography of his mother, Lula Mae Hardaway. Jan Gaye has written about her late husband, as have his brother Frankie and sister Zeola. To remember Tammi Terrell, her sister Ludie became an author.
The lone Motown encyclopedia is by Graham Betts, while a distinctly British perspective is found in Hitsville! The Birth of Tamla Motown by Keith Rylatt.
About her former husband, Raynoma Singleton penned Berry, Me and Motown. Hitsville history is also reflected in books about the Andantes, Florence Ballard, the Commodores, the Marvelettes, Rare Earth, Lionel Richie, the Supremes and Mary Wells. In addition, there are Motown memoirs by A&R chief Mickey Stevenson, session musicians Dennis Coffey and Jack Ashford, songwriter/producer Al Cleveland, engineers Russ and Ralph Terrana, and publicist Al Abrams, among others – not forgetting songwriter Janie Bradford’s collection of poetry. Meanwhile, the company’s unique house band (and bass player James Jamerson, in particular) features in Standing In The Shadows Of Motown by Dr. Licks, aka Allan Slutsky, while What’s Going On gets a work of its own by Ben Edmonds. Conspicuous by its absence is any book about the Four Tops.
And still they come: there are separate memoirs due in October from Eddie and Brian Holland, and Lamont Dozier – who, together, formed Motown’s most successful creative trio. Not even in the name of love can books about Motown be stopped.
MOTOWN’S TOP 10: STORYTELLING
Things you need to know. This time: books about Motown
(ranked in alphabetical order by author*)
THE STORY OF MOTOWN, Peter Benjaminson (1979/2018)
MOTOWN: THE GOLDEN YEARS, Bill Dahl (2001)
MOTOWN: THE HISTORY, Sharon Davis (1988)
I HEAR A SYMPHONY, Andrew Flory (2018)
WHERE DID OUR LOVE GO, Nelson George (1985/2007)
MOTOWN: MUSIC, MONEY, SEX, AND POWER, Gerald Posner (2002)
THE MOTOWN ALBUM, Various (1990)
THE MOTOWN STORY, Don Waller (1985)
WOMEN OF MOTOWN, Susan Whitall (1998/2017)
MOTOWN: THE SOUND OF YOUNG AMERICA, Adam White with Barney Ales (2016)
*Second date indicates second edition