Home » Berry Gordy, Jr.: Shaping stars from the Jackson 5 to Stevie Wonder

Berry Gordy, Jr.: Shaping stars from the Jackson 5 to Stevie Wonder

Harmonizing history: Berry Gordy, Jr., and the Jackson 5's indelible mark on music

by Victor Adetimilehin
Berry Gordy Jr

Berry Gordy, Jr., born on November 28, 1929, is a notable figure in the music industry, primarily known for founding Motown Records, a record label that significantly influenced the sound of popular music in the 20th century. 

Early Life and Education

Berry Gordy III, known professionally as Berry Gordy, Jr., was born on Nov. 28, 1929, in Detroit, Michigan. He was the seventh of eight children born to Berry Gordy II and Bertha Fuller Gordy, who had relocated to Detroit from Oconee, Washington County, Georgia, in 1922. Gordy’s interest in music was evident from a young age, but his greatest interest was in boxing.

Career Beginnings

Gordy’s career in the music industry began in 1953, as a songwriter, composing hits such as “Lonely Teardrops” and “That’s Why” for Jackie Wilson, “Shop Around” for the Miracles, and “Do You Love Me” for the Contours. All of these songs topped the US R&B charts.

Starting Motown Records

In 1959, with the encouragement of Smokey Robinson, Gordy borrowed $800 (about $8,404 in 2023) from his family to create an R&B record company. 

This marked the birth of Motown Records, which became the most successful African-American enterprise of its time. 

The label’s first headquarters was a small house on West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, which Gordy dubbed “Hitsville U.S.A.” Motown’s approach to music production, focusing on creating a crossover appeal, was revolutionary. Gordy’s vision was to produce music that appealed to both black and white audiences, a significant move during a time of racial segregation in the United States.

Gordy’s first gold record came just one year after the founding of Motown – Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ 1960 hit “Shop Around”.

Gordy’s Motown Records launched the careers of megastars like Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and The Jackson 5. Diana Ross and the Supremes were Motown’s most successful group in the 1960s, achieving record sales of over $12 million, second only to the Beatles. In the early 1970s, it was the Jackson Five that became Gordy’s most lucrative find.

Building an Entertainment Empire

Under Gordy’s leadership, Motown achieved remarkable commercial success. By the late 1960s, Motown was the largest African-American-owned company in the United States. The label sold millions of records, generating substantial revenue. Exact figures vary, but it is estimated that by 1966, Motown had 450 employees and generated $20 million in revenues, which is worth $144 million in today’s dollars. Gordy’s business model, focusing on artist development and a unique production process, was innovative. Motown’s “assembly line” approach to music production, where songwriters, musicians, and producers worked collaboratively, was groundbreaking.

In addition to his music production, Gordy has also been successful in film and television production. For instance, he produced a number of films like “Lady Sings the Blues” (1972), which stars Diana Ross; “Mahogany” (1975), which he also directed; and the martial arts film “The Last Dragon” (1985). The earnings from these productions have also contributed to his wealth.

In 1988, Gordy sold Motown Records to MCA and Boston Ventures for $61 million. Later, in 1994, PolyGram purchased Motown from MCA for $325 million,. After selling Motown Records, Gordy kept other Motown subsidiaries including the highly profitable Jobete Music Co. Motown’s film and television production unit, which produced TV specials like Motown’s 25th Anniversary in 1983 and the critically acclaimed 1989 miniseries, Lonesome Dove, also remained under Gordy’s ownership.

Net Worth and Recognition

 According to reports, Berry’s net worth is estimated to be around $300-$400 million. This fortune was gained through his successful career as a record executive, record producer, songwriter, film producer, television producer, and the sale of Motown. He is known as the founder of Motown, which was the highest-earning African-American business for decades and its subsidiaries.

Gordy has received numerous awards recognizing his accomplishments, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Leadership Award, induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, the Foundation’s Lifetime Artistic Achievement Award, and the Grammy Salute To Industry Icons President’s Merit Award, among many others.


Berry Gordy Jr. is known as a philanthropist and has made contributions to society. Gordy has supported after-school programs for Up-and-coming musicians on behalf of the Motown Center. In 2006, he offered an after-school program for up-and-coming musicians. He has also made generous donations to schools in South Los Angeles.

Gordy has contributed to the Heroes and Legends (HAL) Scholarship Foundation, which aims to help at-risk youth by putting them on track to participate in the performing arts.

In 2019, Gordy donated $4 million to the Motown Museum, this was not only a blessing to this epicentre for musical expression but also an investment in Detroit.

Gordy, Jr., isn’t just an iconic figure in the music industry; he is also a symbol of creativity and innovation.  His journey is a notable story of vision and innovation. Gordy’s impact on music is immeasurable, and his legacy continues to influence artists and producers worldwide.

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