Legendary music executive Berry Gordy was honored with the intersection of Sunset Blvd. and Argyle Ave. emblazoned with his name, directly under the 6255 Sunset building that once housed his famed Motown Records music label once it moved from Detroit to Los Angeles.


On Monday, November 25, in Hollywood, City Council President Herb Wesson and Councilmembers Mitch O’Farrell and Marqueece Harris-Dawson welcomed Gordy, his family, friends and fans to the unveiling of Berry Gordy Square.


As the founder of Motown, also known as Hitsville, U.S.A., Gordy is known for igniting the careers of some of the most influential artists that the world has ever seen and many of them joined him at the ceremony.


In attendance were a who’s who list of entertainers and executives, such as Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Debbie Allen, Suzanne de Passe, Thelma Houston, Clarence Avant, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., and more. Many spectators gathered on the blocked-off street to share the joy of celebrating the day in Gordy’s honor.


“This is a very, very important moment for us. Everyone will admit that Motown influenced the music industry, and it is still influencing the music industry,” noted Wesson. “What Mr. Gordy did was, he inspired women and inspired minorities to believe that they could do anything. What is more important than that?


“Everyone from my generation will tell you how this music changed our life.  For me, it was slow dancing to ‘Ooh, Baby Baby,’ a smiling Wesson said.


“In this town and on this corner, as long as this is a city, we want the world to see that this is Berry Gordy Square,” Harris-Dawson said during his speech. “They’ll get to see, Mr. Gordy, as you demonstrated, when there is not a path, you make one - and you make that path by walking.”


L.A. Sentinel publisher and civil rights activist, Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., saluted Gordy with a speech as well. “You have to really digest the magnitude of this man,” he said, “His contributions to the music industry made him a music industry mogul. Motown’s contributions to the world made him an international icon! For that, we owe him so much.” 


Emphasizing the impact of Gordy, Bakewell cited those who discovered icons such as The Beatles and Elvis Presley, and then compared the world-wide effect of Gordy’s accomplishments in producing Motown legends, such as Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross and the Supremes and Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Jackson 5 and Michael Jackson, The Temptations, Four Tops, and so many more.


“Motown is historically unmatched to this day in music industry history.  With all of these artists, he not only invested his time and his creativity, but they also became friends. They became icons in the world together. But to me, what is most valuable is that he is a great friend,” said Bakewell.


Reflecting on his relationship with Gordy, Bakewell added, “Beyond his musical prowess, he has always been a consistent supporter of the community and the people, particularly in his support of the Brotherhood Crusade and our multiple humanitarian efforts.   In times that are far less glamorous, we have always been able to count on him to support and empower the many disadvantaged people and various charitable causes that sustain them.” 


Gordy’s longtime best friend and writing partner, Smokey Robinson, known for legendary songs such as “You Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Ooh Baby Baby,” and “Tears of a Clown,” shared, “Motown is a once-in-a-lifetime musical event. There has never ever been anything like Motown; there will never, ever again be anything like Motown ever again,” he said.


“Why? Because, we had a man at the helm who was a music man. His love, his first idea about doing this was because of music,” declared Robinson.


Also, Robinson shared a memory of the early days with Motown, touring in various countries and performing for segregated crowds and experiencing racism first-hand. However, a year later, artists could return to the same stage to see an integrated crowd, dancing and enjoying Motown’s unique sound together. He explained his admiration for Motown and credited Gordy with changing his life.


“Whatever they do in his name, I’m going to be there. He has made my life something that I never thought could be possible,” Robinson said. “Today is a great day and I hope that the world follows suit with Los Angeles and does something like this because it is so deserved.”


Wonder began his illustrious career with Motown as an 11-year-old prodigy named Little Stevie Wonder.  His first number one hit song was called “Fingertips.”


“With the exception of 11 years of my life, Berry, I’ve given them to you,” Wonder said in the opening of his speech. He also focused on Motown’s influence on the world.


“In this army of love that we have, God has blessed us with a love that will defeat any hate, any prejudice, and He’s given us the instrument of song to do it. So, Mr. Gordy, I celebrate you today, for not only today, but all of my life.”


In separate interviews, both Debbie Allen and Gordy’s daughter with Diana Ross, Rhonda Ross –Kendrick, shared their excitement for this monumental moment.


“I’m thrilled for him; this is another great moment for him, so well deserved,” Allen stated. “He’s done so much to define the cultural identity of America, music and Black people.”


For Allen, a world-famous dancer, actress, director and more, Motown music was everything, “Oh my God!” she exclaimed, “I grew up dancing to this music, so this is my music.”


“I’m incredibly proud, I’m moved. I’m so thankful that he is here to receive this kind of celebration; to know what kind of impact he had on the world. And then, that this square can stay here so that generations from now will always know his name,” Ross-Kendrick shared.


“He and my mother raised me to know that knowing the accomplishment is enough, so it’s really a bonus when the world knows it too and when the world celebrates it too. But, the most important thing is that you celebrate it yourself,” she said. “We always celebrated him and what he accomplished.”


Lastly, as “Baby Love” by Diana Ross & The Supremes played on the speakers, the iconic Gordy danced his way to the stage, singing Motown hits with the cheering crowd. Gordy couldn’t resist acknowledging musical legend Thelma Houston as he sang to her, “Oh baby, my heart is full of love and desire for you,” as the crowd sang along.  


“This is so overwhelming. It’s even greater than I thought it was going to be,” Gordy said. “As a kid growing up on the eastside of Detroit, Hollywood was an unattainable mystical fantasy, where magic happened and dreams came true. I never imagined I would end up here and on this stage talking to wonderful people like yourselves.


“Today, by honoring me, you are also honoring the entire Motown family who followed me down roads that didn’t even exist, and lived, laughed, cried, lived and died to make Motown what it is today.” 


Gordy thanked his family, his Motown artists, well-wishers, and the public officials for their supportive efforts. He thanked Bakewell for his friendship and brotherly bond.  He also thanked and acknowledged those involved with spearheading the project, including his niece, Karla Gordy Bristol.


Gordy spoke with affection of his business and personal relationships with his Motown artists and executives such as de Passe.  He then focused on those seated in the front row, saying, “Stevie Wonder … you stayed with Motown at the height of your decision making.  Even though you didn’t like some of the things you were made to do, your love and loyalty was so great to me and I will always appreciate it.”


He spoke emotionally to and about his long-time friend and colleague, Smoky Robinson, whom Gordy called his “songwriting apprentice who soon become the songwriting master.” Gordy then looked at Robinson and said, “He is my best friend.” 


In addition, he acknowledged the supporters and and fans that were born into music that Black America could identify with.  “I especially thank your parents and grandparents who supported me and Motown when we needed it the most. And believed in my dream that music had the power to bring the whole world closer together as it has done throughout the years,” he stated.


“I’m just very blessed and I want to thank you all, and thank you again. I want you all to know I deeply love you all.”


After a standing ovation, members of Gordy’s family surprised him with a birthday celebration and cake, as the crowd joined Stevie Wonder as he sang his famous version of “Happy Birthday.” Gordy celebrates his 90th birthday, on Thursday, November 28.


The  celebration concluded with the unveiling of the Berry Gordy Square sign and photos with his family, supporters, friends, and adoring fans.

Category: Cover Stories