Motown founder Berry Gordy formed one of the most successful labels of all time with the help of artists like Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson. The music mogul has undergone an amazing transformation after more than six decades in the spotlight.
Berry, born in 1929, is a Korean War veteran who became a professional boxer during high school. Once he returned home from the war in the ’50s, he met Jackie Wilson. The pair forged a special bond over their shared love for music. Berry wrote several songs for the soul singer before he was inspired to start his own label in 1959.
“I had to borrow money from my family and I kept writing for Jackie Wilson,” Berry told The Guardian in March 2016. “My uncle was a classical piano player and he’d given me lessons for a year, then kicked me out because song ideas would come into my head and I’d do them instead. I liked all music from classical to gospel and blues. I decided to put it all together and make Motown.”
Some of the first artists signed to Motown were The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and The Jackson 5. Berry and Michael grew particularly close after working together for many years and celebrated tremendous successes like the songs “Got to Be There” and “Ben.” The record executive was devastated after the Grammy winner’s death in 2009 after so many years of collaborations.
“I called him ‘The Sponge.’ When the Jackson 5 came to Motown, I was fascinated at Michael’s ability to study my every move,” Berry recalled in a May 2017 interview with Billboard. “He learned everything I knew and everybody else he was interested in, too. I put a songwriting team together, called the Corporation. ‘I Want You Back,’ ‘ABC,’ ‘The Love You Save’ and ‘I’ll Be There’ — with those songs, the Jackson 5 became the first group in history to have their first four singles go straight to No. 1 on the Billboard [Hot 100].”
In 1988, Berry sold Motown to MCA, but not before helping launch careers of artists like Diana Ross, Gladys Knight and Lionel Richie. The impact of Motown was so vast that a Broadway musical was developed based on the label in 2013. Berry helped bring his vision of Motown: The Musical to life before the show closed its curtains in 2015. It was revived at the West End for a U.K. production in 2016 which Berry attended.
In addition to his illustrious career as a top-name music producer and songwriter, Berry is a father of eight. He also became a grandfather to several successful grandchildren who followed in his footsteps and found fame.
Keep scrolling to see Berry’s transformation photos from then and now.
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