It is impossible to talk about the notoriety of ‘black music’ without mentioning Berry Gordy. This charming and killer-smile American businessman is the founder of Motown Record Corporation. The company he founded in 1959 grew to become the most successful music company in America owned by a black man.
He was the sensation behind the rise of many R&B performers of the ‘60s and ‘70s. These performers include Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Marvelettes, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Stevie Wonder, and The Temptations.
Berry Gordy III was born on 28th November 1929 in Detroit, Michigan. His father, Berry Gordy II, was a middle-class American, who moved from Oconee in Georgia to Detroit in 1922. It has been said that he shares a lineage with former US President Jimmy Carter.
The music icon could not finish his schooling at Northeastern High School in Detroit – not because he couldn’t afford to, but because, he was obsessed with boxing – and so he dropped out of school to pursue a featherweight boxing career. This was followed by a spell in the U.S. Army.
On Berry’s return to Detroit, he got interested in music and business as well which led him to open his first store, 3-D Record Mart. In the store, he sold jazz music and 3-D glasses while also writing songs at the time.
The store business failed, forcing Berry to look for a job at the Lincoln-Mercury plant. However, his parents intervened and linked him up with the owner of the Flame Show Bar Talent Club, Al Green. While working there, he met with Jackie Wilson, popularly known as Mr. Excitement.
Alongside Gwen (Berry’s sister) and Billy Davis (a writer and producer), Berry wrote the song, Reet Petite for Jackie Wilson. Jackie recorded the song in 1957 and it got a lot of buzzes internationally. In the UK, the song topped the charts. He co-wrote a couple of other songs for Jackie, including chart-topping Lonely Drops.
Berry Gordy’s Relationships and Family Life
Like most black celebrities, Berry Gordy has been involved in multiple relationships – both marital and non-marital relationships. His first wife was Thelma Coleman. They got married in 1953, on his return from serving his country through the military. The marriage lasted for just six years before they got officially divorced in 1959.
One year after his failed marriage with Thelma, he got married to Raynoma Mayberry Liles. However, before getting married to Raynoma, he had a brief affair with Jeana Jackson and also had a mistress, Margaret Norton. Berry and Raynoma wedded in the spring of 1960 but the marriage suffered a lot as a result of his infidelity issues. So, in 1964, they got divorced just four years later, making it his second divorce.
In 1965, he was involved in a romantic fling with Diana Ross, who was a Motown artist at the time. Though they never got married, they were in the relationship for quite a while. Their intimate relationship lasted for five years (between 1965 and 1970).
After the relationship with Diana Ross, it took him a long time to hook up with anyone. Finally, in 1982, he found Grace Eaton. In what seemed to be a perfect match-up, they dated for eight years. It still didn’t stop him from having a fling with Nancy Leiviska. However, in 1990, both decided to legalize their relationship, having spent a long time together. The marriage didn’t live up to expectation as it became Berry’s least lasting marriage. After being married for three years, Berry filed for a divorce. The divorce officially happened in 1993.
He had eight children from five women. His first wife, Thelma, gave birth to three children – Hazel (born in 1954 and married to Jermaine Jackson), Berry IV (born in 1955 and father to Skyler Austen Gordy), and Terry (born in 1956).
His second wife, Raynoma, gave birth to a child, Kerry (born in 1959). Jeana had one daughter for him, Sherry (born in 1960). Margaret had a son, Kennedy William that was born in 1964 and goes by the stage name, Rockwell.
Berry Gordy also had a daughter with Diana Ross, Rhonda Suzanne in 1971. However, her legal father is Robert Ellis Silberstein under California family law. His eight child is Stephan Kendal, born to him by Nancy. He was born in 1975 and goes by the stage name, Redfoo.
How Much is He Worth?
Gordy is more than just a music producer, his Motown Records remains one of the most successful business enterprises ever owned by an African American. In 1960 Gordy merged two record labels to form Motown Records. After decades of success, he sold Motown in 1988 to MCA Records for around $61 million.
Over the years, there have been few names that can match Berry Gordy’s reputation and success within the music industry. He is estimated to have a net worth of $345 million, placing him among the richest black music producers.
Other Facts About Berry Gordy
- He has 12 Golden Glove titles. As a boxer, he fought 15 Golden Glove matches and won 12 of them.
- He was the first person alive to be inducted into the pioneer Songwriters Hall of Fame award in 2013.
- Gordy has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for his contribution to music.
- Former American President Barrack Obama in 2016 bestowed on Berry Gordon the National Medal of Arts for his influence on American music.