Berry Gordy

Abe Olman Publisher Award

When a young man named Berry Gordy enjoyed his earliest success as a songwriter in late-50’s Detroit, it was the beginning of a landslide of music and talent whose lustre and excitement would one day rival the auto industry for the motor city’s best-known export. Gordy, who became the peerless music executive, combining songwriting skills with an almost infallible ear for talent, tonight receives the Abe Olman Publisher’s Award of the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. The award is named for the late Abe Olman, a major music publishing figure of the ‘50s and ‘60s, and co-founder of the Hall of Fame.

After some songwriting success, Gordy realized there were many aspiring writers, who if given a chance could also be successful. So in his own self-interest and to give those writers a chance, he decided to form his own publishing company. So using an acronym of his children’s names, Hazel Joy, Berry, and Terry, Jobete Music Company was born in a small apartment in Detroit, Michigan.

The company was run by Gordy’s sister, Loucye Gordy Wakefield, with Gordy himself remaining in close contact with all the writers as they were signed. First in the Jobete fold was a teenager named William “Smokey” Robinson. The young man went on to turn out-some ofJobete’s most memorable songs, including “Shop Around” (for his own group, the Miracles); “My Girl,” “You Beat Me To The Punch” and “My Guy,” the latter currently enjoying a revival via its prominent use in a Buick commercial. Years and scores of hit tunes later, Robinson was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1990.

Gordy helped develop the careers of many young writers, all of them looking for their first big break. There was, for example, the trio of Lament Dozier and brothers Eddie and Brian Holland, who wrote the first five consecutive number one hits for the Supremes: “Where Did Our Love Go,” “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Back In My Arms Again.” They also wrote numerous hits for the Four Tops, Marvin Gaye and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, and were also inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 1988.

Many people have asked what do Jackie Wilson and Michael Jackson have in common. The answer is Berry Gordy. He launched the careers of both - exactly one decade apart. He either wrote or co-wrote the first five hits of Jackie Wilson and the first five hits of the Jackson 5.

Another major coup for Jobete as it turned out, was the signing of Norman Whitfield and Banrrett Strong to the roster. They are the writers of the classic, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” recorded into a long-term standard by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and the Pips, among many others. They also wrote the Grammy-winning “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.” Still another songwriting team nurtured by Jobete was that of Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, whose contributions include “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.” Jobete also cultivated Stevie Wonder who wrote a host of beautiful songs during the ‘70s and ‘80s, including the Grammy-winning, “You Are the Sunshine of My Life,” “All In Love is Fair,” and Jobete’s first Academy Award winner (for best song) “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” the theme for the movie, “The Woman in Red.”

Many Jobete songs have become major international sellers. These include such familiar titles as “For Once In My Life,” “Dancing in the Street,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Reach Out (I’ll Be There),” “Money (That’s What I Want),” “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” (nominated for an Oscar) and hundreds more.

During 1970, the company reached a kind of zenith of success, placing 10 different songs in Billboard Magazine’s best-selling singles chart at number one, a rarely accomplished feat.

In the movie world, too, Jobete songs constantly turn up. They’ve appeared in such popular films as “Sister Act,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Malcolm X,” “The Big Chill,” “Platoon,” and “Thelma and Louise” among others.

The company, with its 15,000 copyrights, continues to operate under its president, Lester Sill, who took over in 1985. Earlier, Gordy’s brother, Robert, had run the firm following the death of his sister, Loucye Gordy Wakefield.