Berry Gordy's first success as a songwriter came with Jackie Wilson's 1957 hit "Reet Petite"
Gordy formed a record company in 1959, Tamla Records, which would become Motown
Famed for founding Motown Records and all that followed, Berry Gordy first achieved success as a songwriter via compositions like Jackie Wilson's 1957 hit "Reet Petite," which he co-wrote with his sister Gwen and friend Billy Davis, other hits written for Wilson including "Lonely Teardrops," "To Be Loved" and "I'll Be Satisfied." He also had a hand in writing other landmark hits for the likes of the Miracles ("Shop Around"), Etta James ("All I Could Do was Cry"), the Contours ("Do You Love Me," also a hit for others including the Dave Clark Five), Marvin Gaye ("Try It Baby"), Brenda Holloway ("You've Made Me So Very Happy," also a hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears), Diana Ross & the Supremes ("I'm Livin' in Shame), the Jackson 5 ("I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save," "I'll Be There").
Gordy also co-wrote "Money (That's What I Want)," which became Barrett Strong's biggest hit in 1960—the year that Motown Record Corporation was incorporated. In total, Gordy wrote or co-wrote 240 of the approximately 15,000 songs in the catalog of Motown's Jobete Music music publishing affiliate. Among the other artists who recorded his compositions are LaVern Baker, the Marvelettes, Mary Wells, the Temptations and Martha Reeves & the Vandellas.
Gordy parlayed his songwriting success into record production, and in 1957, after discovering a band called the Matadors, began signing artists. He formed a record company in 1959, Tamla Records, which would become Motown. Its first major success came with the Matadors—after their name was changed to the Miracles, and later Smokey Robinson and the Miracles.
Gordy was born in Detroit in 1929, and operated a record store before developing his songwriting craft and launching Motown, which became legend thanks to artists also including the Supremes, the Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, the Temptations, the Jackson 5, Mary Wells, the Marvelettes, Steve Wonder and Marvin Gaye. But the foundation for Motown's success rested on songwriters, who besides Gordy, included such Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees as Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland, Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong, Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder.
Of course, Motown was essentially a full-service star-making company, and also fielded its own stellar production teams and studio musicians--all giving the company its signature soul/R&B sound. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1972, Gordy produced the Billie Holiday biopic Lady Sings the Blues starring Diana Ross, while Motown continued to produce big hits. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a nonperformer in 1988 and published the autobiography To Be Loved in 1994. In 1998 he was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame, and in 2013 he became the first living person to receive the Songwriters Hall of Fame's Pioneer Award.
In 2016 Gordy received the National Medal of Arts from President Obama for "helping to create a trailblazing new sound in American music" through his songwriting, record production and establishment of Motown in launching the careers of countless legendary artists in shaping American history.