The all-time heavyweights of music and entertainment were at the 44th annual Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremonies recently in New York, and perhaps none was more notable than Berry Gordy.
Elton John, Billy Joel sang snippets of Foreigner’s hits when introducing the band and Smokey Robinson debuted part of a new song he wrote about Berry Gordy.
Robinson, who gave a lengthy, 15-minute introduction to Gordy, said he was recovering from inflamed vocal cords and hadn’t performed in two months. Then he sang part of a new song he wrote about his relationship with Gordy, who he called his mentor, brother, sometimes dad and best friend.
“Did you know all the joy you’d be bringing,” he sang. Some of the cast of “Motown: The Musical” followed with a medley of classics.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony was full of star power that included Alison Krauss, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Nickelback, Petula Clark, Wiz Khalifa, Jordin Sparks and a video message from Bill Clinton.
Tyler, Perry, Mick Jones and Lou Gramm of Foreigner, Holly Knight, JD Souther and Tony Hatch were inducted Thursday into the Songwriters Hall 2013 class in New York City.
The event also featured a video from Clinton, who spoke about the significance of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” during the Civil Rights Movement. The song, performed by Jordin Sparks, was honored with the towering song award.
As the legendary founder of Motown, Berry Gordy Jr. signed many now-iconic music stars to his 1960s record label — Diana Ross and the Supremes, The Temptations and Smokey Robinson, to name a few. Berry admits that he never liked children’s groups, but that changed the day he saw a very young Michael Jackson audition for Motown with the Jackson 5.
Berry’s recent appearance on “Oprah’s Master Class,” he vividly recalls watching Michael’s performance and being blown away by Michael’s talent. Not only was Berry impressed with Michael’s moves, but he was also amazed by the boy’s on-stage presence.
“On stage, he was one kind of person — he was like this master of what he was doing,” Berry says. “When he was through, he was very quiet and almost shy.”
Even though the Michael’s talent was undeniable, Berry says that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to sign the Jackson 5 to Motown Records. Could Berry break his own rules and sign a kid’s group? “I couldn’t make up my mind,” he admits. “Here’s this kid… singing a Smokey song that seemed like he had been living it for 30 years! So, right away, we were saying, ‘This is an old man in a kid’s body’ because he’d sung ‘Who’s Loving You’ better than Smokey — and Smokey did a phenomenal job.”
If he was going to make it work, Berry knew that Michael and the Jackson 5 needed to sing something that sounded age-appropriate. “I told Suzanne [de Passe of Motown], ‘They’re going to need something that a kid would sing,'” Berry says. “So, I just came up with a kind of melody of my own.”
The melody Berry imagined ended up influencing Jackson 5 songs like the number-one hit “ABC,” leading to a string of additional successes. “There’s no other group, I think, before or since [the Jackson 5] that has had their first four records go to number one,” Berry says.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame recognized the man who gave the world Motown.
Chairman Jimmy Webb announced that Berry Gordy received the Pioneer Award, established last year to pay tribute to the creator of an extensive body of work that has influenced generations of tunesmiths. Woody Guthrie was the inaugural honoree, making Gordy the first living recipient.
In a statement, Webb described Gordy as “an innovator and a visionary,” and adding that he “pioneered a marketplace for African-American artistry and then he invited the world to enjoy it.”
Gordy’s legacy is also being celebrated in a new Broadway show, “Motown: The Musical.”