Berry Gordy Jr., who once considered becoming a boxer, started a record company with a family loan of $800 in 1959. Gordy’s company, Motown Records, went on to create some of the most popular music of all time. By the time he sold the company nearly thirty years later, it was worth $61 million and had produced musical legends including Jackie Wilson, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and the Jackson 5.
Here, the revolutionary who shattered the color barrier in the American entertainment industry and forever changed the way the world hears music, shares his story of ambition and vision. From humble beginnings, Gordy amassed a fortune and became a musical kingmaker in the cultural heydays of the 1960s and ’70s. Quelling rumors and detailing his relationships with the artists he managed, Gordy pens “a vivid recreation of a great period and a seminal company in popular music” (Kirkus Reviews).
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||14 MB|
|Note:||This product may take a few minutes to download.|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
SUCCESS IS A MF
May 23, 1988 — 10:30 A.M., Motown Industries, Los Angeles
That period of time before the selling of my company was probably the most confusing of my life.
It was about a month before I would surrender my title as chairman of the board of Motown Records. As I made my way through the heavy wooden doors of our eighteenth-floor corporate offices I could feel the panic. It was everywhere — a quiet panic. Negotiations with MCA were supposed to be secret, but the daily leaks to the press were so accurate they seemed phony.
Fay Hale, a black woman in her fifties, one of the many unsung heroes of Motown, greeted me in the lobby with a cheerful "Good Morning," and her everyday beaming smile. But her eyes gave her away. She was petrified. For almost thirty years she, like so many others, had been loyal to me. For almost thirty years she had fought every president of the record company, including me, to keep us from overshipping and overpaying. I knew she loved me and she knew I loved her. I also knew she knew she was about to lose her job — her life. Yet, she and I chatted as if nothing was happening.
The impending doom was felt by everyone. Especially by my son, Berry IV, who had hoped someday to run the company. But he had been through this before.
A year and a half earlier I had come close to selling. But the day before I was to sign the papers, I changed my mind. I couldn't go through with it. MCA had offered me more money than I could spend in a lifetime, but I just didn't want to give it up at that time. All those restrictions they put in the contract didn't help either: "Refrain from the record business for five years," "refrain from using your name," "refrain," "forbid," "shall not engage." Yeah? Well, shall not sign. How's that?
MCA was shocked and so was I. But it seems the fighter inside me had taken over. That night, December 30, 1986, I passed on the deal even though my company was losing millions.
When the news broke that I had refused to sell, people were overjoyed. Calls and letters came from all over the world telling me how much Motown was loved, respected, and how our music had touched their lives. This outpouring of love and admiration was overwhelming. It made me feel like a hero or something just because I didn't sell.
I got psyched. I would answer the bell one more time and come out fighting, creating new hits just like the old days.
Get everybody together! Get inspired, perspired, fired up, go for the throat! We need hits. No. Smashes! That's the only way — smash product.
There had always been a standing debate in our company as to which was more important — Creative or Marketing. Creative had always won. Our slogan, "It's what's in the grooves that counts," was proven right over and over again. Great records had always solved any and all problems for me. But gung ho as I was — marshaling forces, reshuffling and bringing in manpower, digging in at the studio — that had not been enough. Times had changed.
Now, some seventeen months later, as I gazed from my office window across the forest of corporate buildings to the Capitol Records tower, I realized many of them, too, were in the process of being taken over. Everybody was either buying or selling.
Technology was moving faster than the speed of light. Global communications, cable, satellite dishes, computerization and digitalization were the new order of the day. A video of a song could now be played once for 200 million people and if 1 percent bought the record you had a two million seller, a super hit by any standard.
Conglomerates were taking over. These multicorporate entities, with their dominating distribution capabilities and their powerful foothold in a radically changing world economy, had the edge. A big edge.
For years we had shown the world what we could do with talent and ingenuity as our base. And now these new corporate entities were showing me what they could do with money and power as theirs. I, who had prided myself on always being ahead of the game, had fallen behind. My company was in no position to take advantage of these new developments. We had too much overhead and had to gross $40 million a year just to break even.
Selling wasn't just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do.
I shifted my eyes from the window to the gleaming baby grand in my office. It seemed to be saying "Come let me soothe you." I went over, sat down and started running over some chord changes that had formed the foundation of many songs I had written. As I pounded away at those simple chords, humming and singing anything that came to mind, I was back to basics — and comfortable.
The realization of what I had accomplished first brought pride, then sadness. Sadness because now I understood the real reason I was in trouble. It wasn't the conglomerates. It wasn't the technology and the changing world. The world had been changing since the day I was born. The real reason was, I was just tired. I didn't want to do it anymore. It had long stopped being fun for me.
When I started out I was doing about 90 percent Creative and 10 percent Business. As the years went on the percentages more than switched; and now, doing about 98 percent Business and 2 percent Creative, I was stuck and I hated it.
The explosion of so many things at the same time, the industry, the artists, the music, together with the normal internal and external problems that growth presents, had finally caught up with me. On top of all that were over two decades of rumors, gossip and misinformation that I had never taken time to deal with. "Let others say and write what they want. Well take the high road — stay on course," I used to say.
Though I tried to be strong and take it all in stride, the rumors about my cheating the artists always bothered me the most. I knew someday I would definitely have to clear that one up.
Thoughts of the past were bombarding me, but they couldn't overcome the problems of the present. "What do they mean I can't sell my own company?" I had yelled at my secretary, Edna Anderson, a few days before. Edna knew everything there was to know about the street. Her black militancy had not mellowed much in the sixteen years she had been my right arm.
"They say Motown is too important. It means too much to too many people to sell," she said. "It's an institution. How can you sell a way of life?"
"They say! Who in the fuck is they? Do they know I'm losing millions?" My voice had jumped into high C. She knew when that happened it was time to back off. She said nothing. "How in the hell can anybody tell me I can't sell something I created, nurtured and built from nothing?"
Edna watched me for a moment, then came over and put her hand on my shoulder and said in her all too familiar sarcastic, Southern drawl, "Success is a MF, ain't it?" If she had said "motherfucker" I would have probably laughed out loud.
But as it was I smiled, knowing she knew I knew very well who they were. They were the people who had grown up with Motown and loved it the same as I did. They were the people who believed in me and Motown no matter what they had heard or read in the newspapers. They were the people who believed — and rightly so — that Motown was a dream that happened to have come true. They were the fans who collected every record we made from day one. They were employees, the dedicated people who I knew would go down on any ship I was commanding. They were the white people around the world whose main connection to black culture had been through our music. They were the black people around the world who felt their heritage was being sold down the drain. Yes, I knew who they were.
My anger just as quickly turned to gratitude for all those who were letting me know that after almost thirty years the legend of my company and the music we made was now even bigger than ever. I knew I had to protect that legacy.
Still banging on the piano I started reflecting back to the early sixties, to a house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit. A place we called "Hitsville U.S.A." There was no way our purpose was vague.
The "Hitsville" sign over the door let it be known that if you set foot inside you were expected to sing, dance, write, produce, sell or manage. That name kept our mission in focus. I knew something very dynamic was taking place. This thing was becoming a force to be reckoned with and I was its leader. The successes, the challenges and our determination were meshing together into something tangible. It was turning me into a real boss. I said and others did. I complained and they strained to do better. I was pushing and driving people beyond their sense of what was possible. I expected more — they gave more. Our work was producing results that gave me confidence, even more confidence than I already had.
The mixing of our respective talents inside those walls gave me my first taste of something that I would grow quite used to — power. The irony was that it would slowly transfer from me to the artists, the people I used it for. I had never realized there was such a thin line between their having to laugh at my jokes and my having to laugh at theirs. One day you wake up and the stars you polished so hard to shine are not only shining but in orbit — out of control of themselves and in control of you.
Power — its uses and misuses — is something that has fascinated me over the years. My first encounter with it came when I was very young.CHAPTER 2
WHERE I CAME FROM
That night the house erupted with joy. The whole family exploded out the front door, down the steps, into the streets, jumping and hollering like a bunch of crazy folks! Echoes of the announcer's voice were still ringing in my ears: "Left to the body, right to the head, left, right, left — a smashing right to the chin. He's down. He's down. Schmeling is down! Three ... Four ... Five ... Six ... Seven ... Eight ... Nine ... He's out ... Max Schmeling is knocked out! ... The winner and still heavyweight champion of the world, the brown bomber, Joe Louis!" Euphoria everywhere. Horns honking, streets filled with madness! Everybody was reacting the same as we were: Joy — Pride — Ecstasy!!!
"How could I ever do anything in my life that could make this many people happy," I thought to myself.
This was not just a fight, this was tradition. Whenever Joe Louis fought it was a holiday for black folks. Before, as a toddler, I had always been swept up in the euphoria of the moment, feeling what everyone else was feeling — yet not knowing exactly why. But this time it was different. A lot different. This fight had been perceived by everyone as a superpower contest between America, the land of the free, and Nazi Germany.
I was only eight at the time, but I knew Joe Louis was a hero, a hero of all the people, but he was black like me. I knew what that meant. Even at eight years old I had gotten a taste of the world — the real world — the white world.
That same night I watched my brothers and sisters running off to roam the neighborhood with their friends while I sat down on the street curb remembering back to when I was almost five and thought the world was all black except for Santa Claus. I thought the few white people who came to our neighborhood were accidents of nature. But then around the time I started kindergarten, I was jolted into reality, not once but twice.
Christmas had always been the most magical day of the year for me. The night before was never one when Mother had to make me go to bed on time. As quick as it seemed my eyes had closed, they were open again. Rushing downstairs into wonderland, I always found things I wanted.
If I didn't get exactly what I asked for, I knew it was because I hadn't been good enough. Santa was the one person I could never fool. And one Christmas I found out why.
Pushing down the sidewalk on my brand-new bright red scooter I shouted to a kid from the neighborhood, "Look what Santa brought me!"
"Junior. You know it ain't no Santa Claus, don't you?" he yelled.
"Oh yes there is!" I replied. "And he knows when you are bad, too."
He laughed, motioning to some other kids, "Junior still believes in Santa Claus."
"Then where do all these presents come from?"
"Your father put 'em there, stupid."
I rushed home and told my sister Gwen what had just happened. When she said he was right I was devastated, but acted like it was no big deal. I told her I really knew it all the time. I was dying inside, realizing the wonderment I had known on that special morning would never be again. A fraud. I had been betrayed. Betrayed by — of all people — my own parents. Why?
I didn't understand how my parents could carry on such a lie and hurt me like that. I must have been real smart at that young age because after a week or so it became clear: because they loved me, and wanted to see me thrilled and happy. That was the good news. The bad news was, I would now automatically question everything anybody told me — including my own parents.
Only in retrospect would I fully recognize the irony of my having felt betrayed by Mother and Pop. After all, this was during the Great Depression and to be able to create that vision of wonderland for us, to be able to give each of the children something special on Christmas Day, Mother and Pop had to sacrifice and save all year long, with Pop sometimes working four jobs at a time. Not only that, they didn't even take the credit for it. They gave it to Santa Claus.
I thought there could be nothing worse than no Santa Claus. I was wrong.
A short time later, I discovered the world was not all black. Worse, it was all white except for a few "other" people. And we were considered the lowest class of those "other" people — "Niggers." I didn't know exactly what that word meant but I knew it was real bad.
I remember rushing home from school one day telling my mother a white boy had called me one.
"Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me," is all she said.
Though her words were strong and gave me comfort at the time, I still felt bad.
At school most of the kids were black — we called ourselves colored then — but all the teachers were white. They were the bosses and had all the right answers. They had us read stories. There was Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella and Prince Charming. And then there was Little Black Sambo.
At the movies I also found the heroes were all white: Shirley Temple, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn, Tarzan, the Cowboys, the President! And then there was Stepin Fetchit. Negroes were caricatures who made up the comedy relief: bulging eyes and bobbing heads — that they were always scratching. They had a "buck and shuffle" walk, and were scared of everything.
Though my parents tried to protect us from the outside world of racism by giving us lots of love and strengthening us through philosophy and religion, I could see how they sometimes covered their own pain with laughter. Some of the older kids in the neighborhood even made fun of themselves with chants like: "If you're white, you're all right; if you're yellow, you're mellow; if you're brown, you can stick around; but if you're black — get back." Even in jest, nobody wanted to be black.
But now in 1938, three years later, all of a sudden it wasn't so bad to be black. A black man, Joe Louis, was the greatest hero in the universe — at least for the moment. But in that moment a fire started deep inside me; a burning desire to be special, to win, to be somebody.
I stood up from the curb and headed back into the house, a new certainty to my eight-year-old stride.
When I settled into bed that night and began to drift into sleep, it was with a haunting mix of glorious, inspired, yet confused feelings.
I didn't know it then, but that fire inside me started a conflict between me and the family work ethic, built into my system by the man I most admired, most loved and most wanted to be like, my father. He was a hero, too. But not like Joe Louis. Joe Louis didn't have to labor from sunup to sundown to be great, to be respected, to be loved. Pop did.
Pop had made us all believe that a hard, honest day's labor was the only way. That was not just his personal credo, it was our family history.
I don't know much about the South at all but over the years I've heard many stories about our family history, not only from Pop but from my grandmother and my aunts and uncles. There's one story they all seemed to tell, each in their own way.
A nine-year-old mulatto boy watched outside a small wooden slave cabin on a Georgia plantation in 1862. He saw a gray-haired old man pleading intensely with his grown son, who lay writhing in pain on the dirt.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "To Be Loved"
Copyright © 2013 Berry Gordy.
Excerpted by permission of RosettaBooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE — YOU ARE YOU,
1. SUCCESS IS A MF,
2. WHERE I CAME FROM,
3. MUSIC VERSUS BOXING,
4. FACING THE REAL WORLD,
PART TWO — I'LL TRY SOMETHING NEW,
5. THE SONGWRITING YEARS,
7. SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST,
PART THREE — I HEAR A SYMPHONY,
8. THE SUPREMES,
9. THE EXPLOSION,
10. CHANGES IN THE GROOVES,
11. NEW HORIZONS,
PART FOUR — ALL IN LOVE IS FAIR,
12. TROUBLES AND TRIBUTES,
13. MOTOWN FOREVER,
14. FULL CIRCLE,
RELEASED COMPOSITIONS BY BERRY GORDY,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book is a glorified book about Berry Gordy.