The first women to contribute to the work of Motown Records were those closest to Berry Gordy. Berry’s mother, Bertha Gordy, was a passionate entrepreneur along with Mr. Gordy’s father. The Gordy parents inspired Berry and his siblings to develop entrepreneurial skills of their own. As a result, Berry Gordy’s four sisters all played pivotal roles behind the scenes of what would become one of the most iconic record labels in history. As we honor women this month, there’s no better way to start than by highlighting the five women whose strong family bond, entrepreneurial talents, and dynamic personalities helped to build Motown Records.
Berry Gordy’s mother, Bertha Gordy, owned several businesses with her husband, Berry Gordy Sr., to include the Booker T. Washington grocery store in Detroit. Mrs. Gordy also co-founded the Friendship Mutual Life Insurance Company. Her business acumen and passion for entrepreneurship was passed on to her children and inspired Berry Gordy to start the business that would become Motown.
Esther Gordy Edwards, the eldest Gordy sister, served as a mentor, adviser, and Senior Vice President and Corporate Secretary of Motown’s main offices from 1961 to 1972, when Berry moved the entire operation to Los Angeles. In 1971, she became the Director of Public Affairs at Motown. Following Motown’s unprecedented success, in 1985, she founded the Motown Museum at Hitsville U.S.A., which houses the world-famous Motown Recording Studio A.
Anna Gordy Gaye was one of Motown’s earliest songwriters. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, Anna co-wrote The Originals’ biggest hits “Baby I’m For Real” and “The Bells” with her husband, Marvin Gaye. She also co-wrote “God Is Love” and “Flying High (In the Friendly Sky)” on Marvin’s What’s Going On album. Anna was the inspiration behind Anna Records that soon evolved into Motown Records. Anna Records is most known for releasing the first national Motown hit, “Money (That’s What I Want)”recorded by Barrett Strong.
Loucye Gordy Wakefield was a Vice President of Motown Record Corporation, she was responsible for all Billing and Collections at Motown, and her unique talent is credited for helping the company grow financially in a short period of time. Loucye was also responsible for the manufacturing end of Motown’s recordings, and led Jobete, Motown’s main publishing division, until her sudden death in 1965.
Gwen Gordy Fuqua, an entrepreneur and songwriter, partnered with her brother Berry to co-write several hits for Jackie Wilson in the mid-1950’s. In 1959, Gwen co-founded Anna Records, named after their sister Anna. Gwen was also part of the Artist Development team at Motown. She was a model for Maxine Powell’s modeling institute and eventually recruited her to work at Motown, making it the only record company with its own finishing school.
The making of Motown Records would not have been possible without these five pioneering women behind Berry Gordy. Their diverse skillset and love for family was an unforgettable force behind Motown Records in its early days and well into its success. Motown Museum is proud to preserve the history of these unforgettable women every day, but especially this Women’s History Month.