Motown founder Berry Gordy to retire

At the ripe old age of 89, Berry Gordy, who built Motown Records into a multimedia empire in the 1960s and 1970s, has announced his retirement.

“I have come full circle,” he said onstage during Motown’s 60th anniversary program at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, where he founded and built the label with members of his family and many artists and executives form the local community. “It is only appropriate [to announce this] while here in Detroit, the city where my fairy tale happened with all of you,” he concluded, according to the Detroit Free Press and other news outlets.

The announcement caps a celebration of Motown’s anniversary that has been going on all year, with a documentary and other events observing Gordy’s enormous accomplishments with the company, which has not only shaped American culture with artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & the Supremes and of course Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. Inspired by the assembly-line work of Detroit’s auto industry, where Gordy worked during his youth, he and Motown’s artists and staff cranked out hit after hit from the basement studio he’d built in Motown’s headquarters in a house on West Grand Boulevard. Motown went on to become America’s largest black-owned company for many years, and that house is now a museum, which recently underwent a $50 million expansion.

Although Gordy sold the label in the late 1980s — it is now a division of Universal Music Group’s Capitol Records — and its Jobete music-publishing wing to Sony/ATV, the company retains an identity that is inextricably associated with him. Although many assumed he had long since retired, he remained involved with the company and a frequent presence at awards shows and other industry events — often well into the night.

His retirement was included in a nearly 40-minute speech that included many anecdotes, according to the Free Press, and was attended by such Motown veterans as Suzanne de Passe, who played a key role in the rise of the Jackson 5 and the label’s later years, and producer/musician Mickey Stevenson, to whom he recalled loaning his car — only to have both Stevenson and the vehicle disappear for two days. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others were also in attendance.

He said that he has only recently comprehended the impact that Motown’s legacy has had. “I was too busy to understand it, to appreciate it,” he said.

Gordy’s speech crowned the “Hitsville Honors” event, a three-and-a-half-hour-long show that featured performances from longtime Motown acts such as the Temptations, the Four Tops and Martha Reeves as well as younger label acts such as Big Sean, Kem and Ne-Yo.

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Motown founder Berry Gordy speaking on the phone, 1970. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Berry Gordy (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Berry Gordy Jr and the Supremes studio portrait, 1965, USA. Clockwise from top : Berry Gordy, Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard. (Photo by Gilles Petard/Redferns)
NEW YORK - 1965: Levi Stubbs (right) of the R&B vocal group "The Four Tops" chats with the head of Motown, Berry Gordy, on the set of TV show Hullabaloo in 1965 in New York City, New York. (L-R) Abdul "Duke" Fakir, Berry Gordy, Levi Stubbs, Ronaldo "Obie" Benson. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - JANUARY 01: Photo of Berry GORDY; Motown boss Berry Gordy in his office (Photo by RB/Redferns)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Berry Gordy Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
The founder of Motown records, Berry Gordy seated with his father just before his wedding ceremony in 1968, September 21, 1968. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - NOVEMBER 01: Photo of Berry Gordy. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - NOVEMBER 01: Photo of Berry Gordy. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
The Gordy Family and relatives gathered around the open casket of Berry Gordy Snr, the father of Berry Gordy founder of Motown Recording company, November 27, 1978. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - MAY 4: Berry Gordy attends Apollo Theater 50th Anniversary Party on May 4, 1985 at the Apollo Theater in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
The founder of Motown records, Berry Gordy with his arm around a man in a tuxedo, 1985. (Photo by Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images)
Producer Berry Gordy attends Museum of the Moving Image Gala Honoring Sindey Poitier on February 28, 1989 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Producer Berry Gordy attends Museum of the Moving Image Gala Honoring Sindey Poitier on February 28, 1989 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Producer Berry Gordy attends 30th Anniversary Party for Motown Records on October 22, 1990 at the Pantages Theater in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 19: Berry Gordy (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 19: Berry Gordy (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)
7/17/99 Los Angeles, Ca. Mowtown Boss, Berry Gordy With Barbi Benton At The Playboy Expo '99 & Playmate Reunion Held At The Pacific Design Center. (Photo By Brad Elterman/Getty Images)
Producer Berry Gordy and date attend the birthday party for Marvin Davis on June 25, 1991 at Spago Restaurant in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Producer Berry Gordy attends Museum of the Moving Image Gala Honoring Sindey Poitier on February 28, 1989 at the Waldorf Hotel in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
Martin Bandier and Berry Gordy during 34th Annual Songwriters Hall Of Fame Awards - Show at Marriott Marquis in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage for JLM)
Martin Bandier and Berry Gordy and Jimmy Webb during 34th Annual Songwriters Hall Of Fame Awards - Pressroom at Marriott Marquis in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage for JLM)
CENTURY CITY, CA - APRIL 10: (L to R) CEO John Mack, producer Suzanne de Passe and producer Berry Gordy Jr., attend the Los Angeles Urban League's 30th anniversary benefit gala at the Century Plaza Hotel on April 10, 2003 in Century City, California. Producer Suzanne de Passe was honored with the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Berry Gordy, Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams during "Lady Sings the Blues" DVD Release Screening - Arrivals at Paramount Theatre in Hollywood, California, United States. (Photo by Mark Sullivan/WireImage)
Berry Gordy and Eskedar Gobeze during 36th Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - Arrivals at Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/WireImage for Songwriter's Hall of Fame)
Martin Bandier and Berry Gordy during 36th Annual Songwriters Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show and Dinner at Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by L. Busacca/WireImage for Songwriter's Hall of Fame)
NEW YORK - JUNE 13: Berry Gordy and Eskedar Gobeze attend the 64th Annual Tony Awards at Radio City Music Hall on June 13, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - JUNE 13: Berry Gordy attends 2010 TONY AWARDS (Arrivals) at Radio City Music Hall on June 13, 2010 in New York City. (Photo by JIMI CELESTE/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 22: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) presents the National Medal of Arts to record producer and songwriter Berry Gordy (L) during an East Room ceremony at the White House September 22, 2016 in Washington, DC. President Obama awarded the 2015 National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal to recipients in the annual ceremony. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - NOVEMBER 05: Producer Berry Gordy and Singer-Songwriter Smokey Robinson attend the City Of Hope 2015 Spirit Of Life Gala, Honoring UMG Chairman And CEO Lucian Grainge at Santa Monica Civic on November 5, 2015 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Lester Cohen/Getty Images for City of Hope)
LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 05: Berry Gordy attends a photocall for "Motown - The Musical" at The Hospital Club on October 5, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 04: Berry Gordy attends the Jackie Wilson Honored With A Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on September 04, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rachel Luna/FilmMagic)
HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - SEPTEMBER 04: Berry Gordy attends the Jackie Wilson Honored With A Star On The Hollywood Walk Of Fame on September 04, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Leon Bennett/Getty Images)
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