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Berry Gordy and the Rise of Motown - Essay Example

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Berry Gordy and the Rise of Motown

Berry Gordy, Jr., created a recording company that became a legend in the music industry and an icon of American culture. Gordy wielded tight control over the company’s business practices, famously micro-managing both Motown’s finances and the lives and careers of its musical talents.The formula he established,both from a business and creative standpoint,stood the test of time and turned Motown into a mega-million dollar concern Following intelligent business principles, Gordy diversified into other branches of the entertainment industry, such as film, and moved Motown from Detroit, the city with which it is still identified, to southern California. Today, Gordy’s holds the double legacy as a successful businessman and creative musical impresario. Keywords: Berry Gordy, Jr., music industry, Motown, Detroit. CREATING AN ICON 3 Creating an Icon: Berry Gordy and the Rise of Motown For millions of music fans around the world, Berry Gordy and Motown Records are icons of the music industry and of popular culture in general. The “Motown sound” is still considered the most distinctive “urban” representation of the genre, an influence as seminal and profound in its way as Elvis Presley and the Beatles. Memphis had Stax and Sun Records, and Chess Records is still closely identified with the Chicago blues scene. Yet no music label has ever been more closely identified with a community than Motown with Detroit, a musical marriage the mere mention of which still encompasses its own aesthetic and mystique. All of this was due to the vision of Berry Gordy, the Detroit native whose foresight, business judgment and promotional flair helped grow a small, hometown label into a multi-media entertainment empire. As with any successful entrepreneur, once he was established as a leader in his field Gordy successfully diversified his business interests. Motown’s move into the film industry proved financially successful and by the time Gordy sold the company to MCA, it was worth more than $60 million. A Newsweek article from May 1983 ascribed the basis of Motown’s success to the fundamental desire of young people, both black and white, to dance to music with an infectious beat (Barol, 1983). This, the article contended, was the basis of Gordy’s genius: his faith in a formula that defined Motown like no other label. Its first great hit, “Shop Around” by Smoky Robinson, which sold a million copies in 1960, is a prime example of the timelessness of the music Gordy produced and the durability of his business formula as a music impresario. A true opportunist, Gordy leveraged the racial and cultural tumult of the 1960s, positioning Motown as CREATING AN ICON 4 a kind of unofficial urban musical “voice” of black America, and a symbol of Detroit, the city with which it is still identified, even though Gordy long ago moved his operation to Hollywood to take advantage of opportunities in the film industry. No sentimentalist, Gordy did not allow image to cloud his business judgment or convince him to act counter to his best interests. On June 28, 1988, Gordy sold Motown to MCA for $61 million, a deal that some said decidedly favored Gordy. “Right now, the company has nothing on the charts, it’s internally shot, people are looking to get out. It’s a sad ending to a good piece of American history. Berry Gordy is a great creative guy, but (he’s) not a strong manager” said a rival producer at the time (Ingham and Feldman, p. 195). It is a measure of Motown’s cultural power that Gordy came under such virulent criticism for having sold arguably the nation’s most visible black-owned business to a large corporation (p. 195). Motown may have been folded into a giant national conglomerate, but Gordy’s success was far from over. Motown’s subsidiaries comprised a considerable source of revenue, and Gordy brought them under one roof in 1990 when he formed the ...Show more

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Berry Gordy, Jr., created a recording company that became a legend in the music industry and an icon of American culture. Gordy wielded tight control over the company’s business practices, famously micro-managing both Motown’s finances and the lives and careers of its musical talents…
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