MOTOWN: Berry Gordy and The Darker Side of Motown

Motown Greatest Hits

Berry Gordy
Berry Gordy

Allegedly Berry Gordy, the founder and owner of Motown, was not always Mr Nice guy as far as some of the artists and associates would have you believe. The Motown Museum is situated at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan. Later on Motown left Detroit and their original headquarters in Detroit for L.A. which upsets many Detroit residents to this day.

Berry Gordy founder and owner of Motown records, started out by writing songs for Jackie Wilson (Reet Petite). He was later joined by Raynoma Liles with whom he formed Rayber; a song writing and promotion company. Raynoma would later become his wife. According to her biography, Berry, Motown and Me, things got so tight financially that she turned to part time prostitution to make ends meet. The book was brushed aside as a good fantasy by Gordy’s sister who runs the Motown museum.

But rumour has it that Berry Gordy tried to suppress the book sales, even going as far as buying up stock from distributors. Rayona’s claims are also backed up by many ex-Motown stars and workers (see also Publishers Weekly – article reprinted at the bottom of this article.) Allegedly Rayoma owned half of Motown but was moved out by Berry.

Gordy started Motown in 1957 and its not widely known that one of his sisters; Gwen, married Harvey Fouqua  and with Marvin Gaye together formed Tri-Phi Records, Harvey also owned Harvey records who had signed the Spinners, Junior Walker and The All Stars; Harvey was an established star and one time member of The Moonglows.

Cleo's Mood
Harvey Records – Harvey Fouqua own label

But getting paid by the (white owned) record distributors for his releases (eg, the instrumental Cleo’s Mood) was difficult and cash flow deficiencies probably forced Harvey’s hand and he joined the competition, his brother in-law’s Motown company in a house at on the outskirts of Detroit. Berry had been a tough guy boxer and could take care of himself and his business distribution. Cleo’s Mood was re- released by Motown.

It’s not easy being a business entrepreneur and harder still in the late fifties as a black man, Berry Gordy was one of the few black businessmen to make it in the USA at the time and one almost alone to own a major record company.

Mr Gordy’s achievements are well documented but much of the other side of things have been sometimes glossed over. His own biography To Be Loved leaves out any hint of problems other than business issues and his concerns about selling out Motown to Herb Alpert’s MCA.

Berry started out as a song writer he soon learned that being credited with writing a song, especially a hit song brought in far more royalties than being a musician or the singer, who in those days might only get a few dollars, a suit of clothes or if it hit big, a Cadillac. He may have learned this from his association in those early years with the Chess Brothers: who allegedly carried a ’45 of the metallic type to assist in negotiations…

Early on he must have come into contact with the bad sorts that had attached themselves to the lucrative recording industry, some claim it was Mafia infiltrated as the Payola scandal demonstrated. There is no doubt about Berry’s fantastic contribution to musical history and he probably was faced with continuous difficulties in keeping on an even keel.

Another of Berry’s sisters started a company ANNA Records, its first release would be one of the first on Motown;  eventually everyone in the family came together within the same family Motown stable.

In the 1980s he sold Motown to MCA for $61 million Dollars – a small amount in reality for such a major keystone record company. It was probably due to losing acts like The Jacksons, who spawned Michael Jackson’s solo career. Eventually even Dianna Ross left Motown, again reducing the companies stock value. He had problems with The Isley Brothers and Holland Dozier Holland his major writers who were all getting tired of arguing about royalty payments that allegedly never were paid out.

His Ex wife who started Motown in partnership with him was given a commemorative plaque… Gordy asked her to take her name off the partnership for tax purposes… thus removing her as 50% owner of Motown.

Berry and Diana Ross had a long standing affair her first child was his not her husbands.

Berry had a strategy to entice Jazz musicians to play for a pittance around 5 – 10 dollars when the rate should be $50 with the promise of a jazz recording session and LP releases later on. They evolved into the Funk Brothers and got little or no acknowledgement from Motown. musicians were segregated on tour buses as Berry did not want his young artists taught tricks by old hands, on the basis they were giving them Marijuana…or more likely telling them as they did to moonlight for more cash at Detroit’s other Soul recording studio Golden World.

Many times Gordy encouraged (and other times forced) his artists to record other Jobete copyrights so he got the credit/payments.

HDH’; Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Edward Holland, Jr.

But by1967 the relationship between this writing team and Motown was getting strained.  Because HDH was so important to Motown, BG had let Brian Holland know that he would be getting a block of stock in the company.   When that didn’t come about, Eddie Holland suggested a label deal with Motown in which the team would write and produce for three new acts.   When BG said no to this, the team left Motown to start their own label, outside of Motown. They established both the Hot Wax and the Invictus labels.

Undervalued, underpaid, under the thumb at Motown; so they all left and formed their own label.

INVICTUS 1968/9. From Notes put together from Holland, Dozier Holland
The New Labels Build

The three team members of Holland, Dozier Holland were under exclusive writing contracts with Motown, but nothing prevented them from being music publishers – which brought in just as much money.  In  of this series I described how they used their vast talent to develop new writers for their new publishing company – keeping a flow of hit songs coming. Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland were under exclusive production contracts with Motown, But Eddie Holland was not.  Eddie had been helping with production for years, so there was nothing preventing him from being the producer.  It looked like they could keep the team operating much like it did before, without Motown.

Almost instantly the new HDH labels started getting hit records.   They had the Hot Wax Records label distributed by Buddah Records and the Invictus label distributed by the giant Capitol Records.  They went with two different national companies so that they could not be exclusively under the control of any one company – an business decision that they should have stuck with.   Over the next few years they got a dozen gold records with these labels, on artists such as the Honey Cone, Freda Payne and the Chairmen of The Board.

Divided We Fall – Holland, Dozier, Holland Leave Motown

Holland, Dozier, Holland left Motown early in 1968 and for a while were a major force in the industry, producing black recording artists.  But by 1971, it became apparent that all was not well in music-land.  By that time, Buddah Records had gone under, leaving HDH with only one national distributor.

See – “Gotta See Jane” “Ghost In My House” great tracks from White artist R Dean Taylor  – said he wrote quite a few H-D-H numbers that they just paid him a few dollars for and he was never credited.

Moving Motown to LA leaving many of the acts that made Motown there, some destitute, alone…one member of the Marvelettes.

Frances Nero Keep On Loving Me
Keep On Loving Me – Frances Nero

Frances Nero’s Motown’ recording, “Keep On Loving Me,” with backing vocals from The Originals has a strange history of undercurrents of the way things go –  see ‘the dark side of Motown’,  ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ by Nelson George,  and coming close with her book Berry me and Motown from Raynoma. Consequently this 45 is so very rare, it was released on 11th of March 1966 in the USA only; and only locally to Detroit. It was the result of a long history for Frances from being mad about piano to playing music at school to meeting a member of the Tams and moving to Detroit where she entered a talent contest at WCHB (Detroit Radio Station) in 1965. Her luck was in and the judge was Berry Gordy. She won first prize; $500, a recording contract and a bunch of roses. Apparently Ronnie McNeir came second. Her short time at Motown was difficult with her only release  a rushed recording, not bad for all that, but it put pressure on her or rather Motown did, if she did not record the song there were others who would….She asked about renewal of her contract (She was 25 married with two small children and an insecure future) they stalled. She had aloofness about her nature, being beautiful but firmly married made her less available to the co-workers, musicians, writers and producers with ‘influence’ at Motown (the dark side of Motown). So the ‘usual stuff’ did not work for her! You get the drift. Other female artists at Motown told under their breath of similar happenings to get on… some left, some stayed.

So Motown stalled the release, of uncooperative Francis, then only pressed 10,000 copies distributing it only locally – Frances claims she “never received any money from Motown ever.”

WCHB played it every half-hour in Detroit announcing that she had won their contest.

Then after leaving Motown, things went from bad to worse; Frances signed for Shrine Records and did some recordings. Shrine was started by Eddie Singleton, and Raynoma Gordy-Singleton, Berry Gordys’ second ex-wife. Frances was loyal to Raynoma. Shrine never released the recordings they went out of business after air plays for their records were curtailed allegedly by pressure from Motown (see the book Berry Me And Motown and the interviews with Eddie Singleton on the DVD set The Strange World Of Northern Soul) and The Curious Story Of MY GUY(Mary Wells).

Frances: a trouble life but Ian to the rescue!

1978 her mother died, and then she cared for her ill step father and after he was OK a car accident crippled her son so she had been looking after him without any more musical activity.

1989 Ian Levine made contact with her as an ex-Motowner, along with many others to re-record and to make new material for his Motorcity label all of which was recoded on film for the DVD set released in 2004.

Frances recorded ” Footsteps Following Me” Writen by George Ivy Hunter a.k.a. Ivy Jo produced by Ian Levine and it charted at 17 in the Billboard Hits/UK, and was number 3 on Radio One’s play list. English DJ’s named Footsteps “The Soul Anthem of the Nineties”. And she got her royalties paid – nice guy Mr Levine.

Golden- worl records
Golden World Records

Based in Detroit and a subsidiary of Golden World records. It was the success of Agent Double 0 Soul as a sort of none official promotional single for James Bond films, performed by Edwin Starr that led to the company being taken over by Motown and leaving the lesser known artists without a recording contract.

Golden World and Wingate Records, owned by Ed Wingate, were Motown’s biggest competitors and in the same city; Detroit. Motown’s Funk Brothers were fined $1,000 each for moonlighting on Agent Double O Soul, calling themselves The San Remo Golden Strings. The 45 was released on the Golden World subsidiary Rik-Tik and in the UK via a distributuion deal with Polydor. Long before it would become re-released on a Motown label

Berry Gordy  was apparently ‘very unhappy’ at Ed Wingate’s success with the Ric-Tic label. Eventually Edwin and some artists joined Motown  for a payment of $1 or 2million (1968). Al Kent’s ‘You’ve Got To To Pay The Price’ takes on an ironic extra meaning as Berry Gordy purchased the Ric-Tic and Golden World acts and recordings. The artists included Gino Washington, JJ Barnes, Laura Lee, Al Kent, Rose Battiste, Freddie Gorman, The Fantastic Four and infuriatingly for Berry, the rights to ‘his own session musicians’ known as the San Remo Golden Strings in fact the Funk Brothers!

This is the reason that in the UK  Edwin Starr’s hits were released on Polydor rather than Motown as Polydor had the UK distribution rights with Ric – Tic USA.

Rose Battiste’s record Hit and Run is so much like a Motown track, you can almost hear the Earl Van Dyke style oozing out of it; but that was when she left and recorded at Revilot – apparently.

Richard Wylie leaves Motown…

1962 he moved to Correc-tone and Continental. Then on to Golden World. Golden World and Wingate Records, owned by Ed Wingate, They were Motown’s biggest competitors and in the same city, with Richard Wylie moving there and with his own backing musicians moonlighting over there! Berry got mad. To this day lots of tracks from this period are still in the archives. Berry bought out the entire company from Ed Wingate and put most under lock and key.

Diana ‘BOSS’: her relationship with Berry Gordy ensured she would have her solo career and she left the Supremes.

Florence Ballard – ex Supreme dies of heart attach – lost income etc from Motown and was unhappily treated.

He never helped his original artists like the Marvelettes ‘bag lady’ walking the streets …. See The Strange World Of Northern Soul (DVD)

What changed Berry from a man who himself started out his own company because of a similar experience of low or no royalties for writing with Jackie Wilson, ends up doing the same to ‘HDH’ and other artists?

He must have had a good salary from his time at Motown before selling it, something from the sale could have gone to ex Motown down and outs who were useful in creating the original hits/business.

The Jacksons dispute – they left Motown but were unable to use their own name….

You get a good idea about the Mind-Set of Berry in Raynoma’s Book:

Raynoma Berry-Singleton has supporters as well. Many of the early Motown artists who gathered in Detroit 1989 for a Motown memorabilia convention either voiced approval for the book or acknowledged Raynoma’s presence as a driving force in Motown’s early days.

“By the time the company was really going strong, she was gone and a lot of the artists didn’t know her,” said Claudette Robinson, a former Miracle and the ex-wife of Motown superstar Smokey Robinson. “But she did play a great part in organizing the company in the beginning.”

Extract From Publishers Weekly

In the last line of her prologue, Berry Gordy’s second wife says of this notably well-written and relentlessly candid memoir, “As God is my witness, every word of it is true.” The author’s claim will no doubt come to haunt several soulful celebrities as well as her legendary ex-husband who, despite an underlying tone of love, is portrayed in this dishy tell-all as a Jekyll-and-Hyde “thief of dreams” as well as a former pimp and monstrous manipulator. Inspired by a desire to reclaim her rightful place in Motown history, to which her many creative and administrative contributions have been all but erased, the author, who co-founded the company with Gordy some 30 years ago and continued to work there in various capacities until the early 1980s, presents a riveting inside look at how the “Motown Sound” was created and ultimately decimated, and in doing so she tells startling “family” secrets, as well as a funky and finger-snapping story. Photos not seen by PW .
Copyright 1990 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Wikipedia

Shrine Records was a Washington DC soul music and R&B record label.

Shrine Records was founded in 1964 by songwriter Eddie Singleton and his wife, Raynoma Gordy Singleton, also known as Miss Ray, who had previously cofounded the legendary Motown with her first husband, Berry Gordy. Its headquarters was a townhouse at 3 Thomas Circle NW, Washington DC. There were a total of 19 Shrine Records singles released, and about six more completed recordings that were never issued. Eddie Singleton wrote many of the songs himself, and the musicians were primarily local Washington acts. Notable artists involved with Shrine included Ray Pollard (who later released material on Decca), Linda Tate, Eddie Daye & The Four Bars, and The Cavaliers. However, none of the Shrine singles were significant hits, and the label ceased operations in 1967. Shrine’s stock of unsold records was destroyed in a warehouse fire in the 1968 Martin Luther King riots. As a result, very few Shrine records remain today, and they are highly sought-after by collectors.

The Shrine Records logo was a line drawing of an eternal flame.


Kingsley Abbott’s otherwise excellent article Motown From The Beginning (RC 360) is marred by a glaring omission. Berry Gordy’s wife Raynoma Gordy Singleton was much more than one of the Rayber Voices. The name says it all, Rayber = Raynoma and Berry, co-founders of Motown. Despite this, her role in Motown’s history has been almost completely expunged.

Raynoma’s 1990 autobiography Berry, Me, and Motown – The Untold Story lays it all out. She was songwriter, arranger, producer, A&R, even engineer – a crack musician with perfect pitch who could write lead sheets and arrangements without a piano. She and Gordy together established the partnerships for Tamla Records and Jobete.

The forerunner for Jobete (named for Gordy’s three children Joy, Berry, and Terry) was the Rayber Music Writing Company. Gordy later had her change the partnerships to his name alone on the grounds that the company would look less like a ‘mom and pop operation’ and ‘for tax reasons’ – ‘it would be just simpler to have it in one name’. Simpler for him.

At the Motown 25 event in 1983, Raynoma was relegated to the balcony and her name was not mentioned once that evening. That is just wrong. She found the building on West Grand Blvd. in Detroit and ordered the sign reading ‘Hitsville USA’. Even Diana Ross calls her ‘Mother Motown’. It’s time for writers of Motown history to give Raynoma Gordy Singleton her dues.

by Robert Gallagher.

Marvin Gaye more sadness

Shot to death by his father who was a minister, supposedly after arguing with Marvin about him watching too much porn on the his VCR TV combination.

Marvin in many ways had a sad and difficult life.

Tammi Terrel did not die on stage in his arms, but later, in hospital were she had been taken after they had finished performing together. This caused Marvin lots of anguish.

It all started out strange with Marvin as his first wife was Bery Gordy’s sister Anna who wasn’t able to have children and it was agreed that Marvin should have sex with Berry Gordy’s at the time 15 year old granddaughter (Denise). Marvins wife faked being pregnant until the baby was delivered. These days this would be a paedophile crime! The resulting child was adopted and called Marvin Pentz Gaye the Third.

Wikipedia – Motown Records

Wikipedia – Berry Gordy