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 these artists, he not only invested his time, his creativity, but they became friends; they became icons in the world together.” But to me, what is most valuable is he is a great friend.”
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 long-time best friend and business partner, Smokey Robinson shared a few words, “Motown is a once in a lifetime musical event. There has never ever been anything like Motown; there will never ever be again 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.
“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 and more, Motown music was everything, “Oh my God!” she exclaimed, “I grew up dancing to this music, so this is my music.”
Additional images (E. Mesiyah McGinnis