Fans and colleagues were united in their admiration after Motown Records founder Berry Gordy announced his retirement on Sunday (22) at the age of 89. “Thank you, Mr. Gordy, for the joyful soundtrack of my youth,” wrote one devotee on Twitter. The Temptations posted a simple “thank you Berry Gordy.” USA Today wrote that “the Detroit native who built Motown Records from a shoestring operation into a music, film and television empire, is retiring.”
Gordy was feted with the Motown Legacy Award at the Hitsville Honours ceremony at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, the home town he helped turn into one of the music capitals of the world during the 1960s. He gave a 35-minute acceptance speech, telling the audience that he was saving an important announcement for the end.
The Motown visionary sold the record company in 1988 and later the publishing division, but even as he approaches his 90th birthday in November, his creative energy has seemed unbounded. He was closely involved, and appears extensively, in the new documentary Hitsville: The Making Of Motown, which had its European premiere last night.
The Hitsville Honours show featured performances by surviving original Motown flagbearers the Temptations, the Four Tops and Martha Reeves, as well as younger acts including Big Sean, Kem and Ne-Yo. Also in attendance at the ceremony was Claudette Robinson, formerly of the Miracles; Rhonda Ross, Gordy’s daughter with Diana Ross; Marvin Gaye III; longtime Temptations manager Shelly Berger and others.
Earlier, Gordy had taken party in a groundbreaking ceremony for the new Hitsville Next centre, part of the Motown Museum’s $50 million expansion, for which the Detroit Free Press says he made a $4 million donation last month. He was joined by the Rev. Jesse Jackson and other dignitaries. Hitsville Next will add educational space and exhibits to the site of Motown’s original offices and studio.
In Gordy’s culminating speech, he said that “This trip to my hometown, Detroit, has been overwhelming to me.” The executive explained that he has only recently come to appreciate the full weight of the love and affection in which he and Motown are widely held. “I was too busy to understand it, to appreciate it,” he said.
“People always ask me ‘What does the legacy of Motown mean to you?’ The answer is simply love. The Motown legacy remains the music we made for all people that reminds us that we are all the same, that music has no colour. It gives voice to honest feelings and helps us understand each other.”
He then concluded by saying: “As I stand here I’m back where I started. I have come full circle, so it is only appropriate that…I should announce my retirement. For years I have dreamt about it, talked about it, threatened it and tried to do it. In fact, this has gone on for so many years that those trying to help me retire [have] retired themselves. It is time for me to spend my next 60 years reflection on how fortunate I am, how much I appreciate and love all of you and how wonderful my life has been, and will continue to be.”