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Interview:
Berry Gordy Enjoying Motown Celebration "More Than Everybody"
 

By GARY GRAFF
Of the Oakland Press

» See more SOUND CHECK

He was the brains, blood, sweat and tears behind the Motown sound and the company's phenomenal success.

And now Berry Gordy, Jr., is enjoying the music empire's impending 50th anniversary "more than everybody."

"For the first time I'm just beginning to appreciate it," Gordy, who founded the Motown musical with an $800 loan from his family in 1959, moved it to Los Angeles in 1972 and sold the company for $61 million in 1988, said on Friday afternoon (Dec. 5) in a rare interview. "I don't have to worry about working, making hits, handling artists...none of that stuff. I enjoyed all of that, but now it's a different kind of enjoyment. It's all about the legacy.

"And I'm just thrilled that I'm here to enjoy now what I couldn't enjoy while I was doing it."

There will be plenty in the coming two years to enhance the celebration for both Gordy and Motown's international cadre of fans.

The official Motown 50th celebration kicks off on Tuesday with the release of "Motown: The Complete No. 1's,", a 10-disc set housed in a package designed to look like the company's original Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters in Detroit. Gordy and former Motown staffer Suzanne DePasse, who won a 1983 Emmy Award for the Motown 25th anniversary TV special, are also producing a documentary about the company that's due to roll out in September.

"It's about me," explained Gordy, 79, "not only what I did and how I did it but how I felt doing it and what it was that happened, from my standpoint." Among the footage, he revealed is a videotaped session of one of the company's famed weekly Quality Control meetings at which staffers argued over whether or not to release the Temptations' "My Girl" as a single.

A Broadway musical about Motown is due to open in 2010, and Gordy said there will also be "long-form, multi-part videos" about the company's history "because there's so much to tell. The documentary is just a two-hour thing."

Universal Music Enterprises, which handles Motown's archival releases, is planning to support the activity with online podcasts and other special features. More retrospective titles are expected to come out over the course of the celebration as well.

In Detroit, the Motown Historical Museum is planning a series of special events for 2009, beginning with an In Their Own Words series with Motown alumni that will kick off Jan. 12 -- the date Gordy actually received the family loan -- with half-off admission for visitors during the week. A Marvin Gaye exhibit is scheduled for April, and a pumped-up version of the museum's annual fundraising gala and concert will take place in November.

"It was music for all people," Gordy, who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, said of the operation that gave the world the Supremes, the Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Martha & the Vandellas and many others. "The songs were built on truth. We wrote songs about who we were; 'We're normal people, so if we feel this way about something, a lot of other people in the world would feel the same way.'

"It's not about black or white, blue or green. It's about people. That's what the Motown philosophy has always been. It's just a unique situation...and now I can look at it a different way and say, 'OK, we did it. We really did it."



What's YOUR Favorite Motown Song?

Motown's 50th anniversary, which will be observed throughout 2009 and into 2010, will certainly spark plenty of discussion, debate, analysis and, of course, memories.

The Oakland Press wants yours to be among them -- and we've got prizes, too.

The question is simple -- What's your favorite Motown song? "My Girl" or "My Guy?" "Stop! In the Name of Love" or "Going to a Go Go?" "Dancing in the Street" or "Dancing on the Ceiling?" We want you to tell us, along with a brief explanation of why you like it or what the song means to you.

Please send your entries to motown@theoaklandpress.com. We know that picking just one song is tough, so feel free to write us about more than one -- but not more than three. Your memories will be published in the January 11 edition of the Oakland Press, along with other stories about Motown's 50th.

Winners will be chosen at random from among the entries. Prizes include a copy of the new 10-disc set "Motown: The Complete No. 1's" and a $50 gift certificate from Record Time in Roseville, as well as passes to visit the Motown Historical Museum.

Deadline for entries is January 6.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff

 



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