Motown became an extremely popular label beginning in the late ‘50s thanks to Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson. The dynamic duo was able to write and record some of the biggest hits for artists like the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells. It’s no surprise that their friendship has lasted more than six decades.
The father of eight helped Smokey get his big break with his band, The Miracles, after they met at an audition. It was Smokey who suggested that Berry launch his own record label, according to the “One Heartbeat” singer’s official website. The Miracles found success on the R&B charts with their hit, “Shop Around,” the first of many top-selling songs under the label. It was only just the start of a lifelong bond.
“Way before we started Motown, Berry said, ‘I’m going to work with you and your group,’ and he just turned my whole life around,” Smokey told Vanity Fair in December 2008. “I played him about 20 of my songs, and he critiqued every song. … He told me a song has got to be a short book, a small movie, or a short story. He taught me how to structure my songs.”
The pair continued to dominate the music industry with their expertise. Smokey penned hits like “My Girl,” “Get Ready,” and “My Guy,” and was named the Vice President of Motown. His influence on the company is something that Berry has been forever grateful for.
“He was the first. My first artist at Motown, my first writer, my first producer, the one who wrote the company song that kept our mission in focus,” the music mogul told Billboard in June 2017. “That’s why we called him the ‘Soul of Motown,’ and he’s still my best friend.”
Berry and Smokey have both led incredible careers with Motown, which was sold to MCA in 1988, according to the New York Times. Both men have gone on to become Kennedy Center Honorees, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, helped launch the career of Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5 and will always be known as pioneers of the R&B and soul genres. They both attended the Grammy Awards together in 2023 and were honored with a Motown tribute led by Stevie Wonder and Smokey.
Keep scrolling to see photos of Berry and Smokey’s friendship over the years.
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