The Motown Story

A great article on the engine room of the 1960’s soul explosion in America


The Motown story is the story of Berry Gordy, Jr., who was born in Detroit Michigan on November 28, 1929. He was the seventh of eight children of Berry Gordy II and Bertha Gordy. His parents had migrated to Detroit from Milledgeville, Georgia in 1922. His father ran a plastering contracting business and his mother sold insurance and real estate; they also ran a grocery store and print shop. Berry Gordy, Jr. dropped out of school after his junior year to become a professional boxer; he decided to get out of the fight game at about the time the Army drafted him in 1951. During his stint in the Army, he obtained his high school equivalency degree. In 1953, he married Thelma Coleman and in 1954 his first child was born, a daughter Hazel Joy. They had two other children, named Berry IV and Terry, but were divorced in 1959.

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When Berry got out of the Army 1953, he opened a jazz-oriented record store called the 3-D Record Mart that was financed by the Berry family. By 1955, the store had failed and Berry was working on the Ford automobile assembly line. While working on the line, Berry constantly wrote songs, submitting them to magazines, contests and singers. His first success as a songwriter came in 1957 when Jackie Wilson recorded “Reet Petite”, a song he, his sister Gwen and Billy Davis (under the pseudonym of Tyran Carlo) had written. “Reet Petite” became a modest hit and netted Berry $1000 for the song. Over the next two years he co-wrote four more hits for Wilson, “To Be Loved”, “Lonely Teardrops”, “That’s Why” and “I’ll Be Satisfied”. Berry later chose the title To Be Loved for his autobiography.


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