“I have come full circle,” he said onstage during Motown’s 60th anniversary program at Orchestra Hall in Detroit, where he founded and built the label with members of his family and many artists and executives form the local community. “It is only appropriate [to announce this] while here in Detroit, the city where my fairy tale happened with all of you,” he concluded, according to the Detroit Free Press and other news outlets.
The announcement caps a celebration of Motown’s anniversary that has been going on all year, with a documentary, a Grammy special and other events observing Gordy’s enormous accomplishments with the company, which has not only shaped American culture with artists like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & the Supremes and of course Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5. Inspired by the assembly-line work of Detroit’s auto industry, where Gordy worked during his youth, he and Motown’s artists and staff cranked out hit after hit from the basement studio he’d built in Motown’s headquarters in a house on West Grand Boulevard. Motown went on to become America’s largest black-owned company for many years, and that house is now a museum, which recently underwent a $50 million expansion.
Although Gordy sold the label in the late 1980s — it is now a division of Universal Music Group’s Capitol Records — and its Jobete music-publishing wing to Sony/ATV, the company retains an identity that is inextricably associated with him. Although many assumed he had long since retired, he remained involved with the company and a frequent presence at awards shows and other industry events — often well into the night.
His retirement was included in a nearly 40-minute speech that included many anecdotes, according to the Free Press, and was attended by such Motown veterans as Suzanne de Passe, who played a key role in the rise of the Jackson 5 and the label’s later years, and producer/musician Mickey Stevenson, to whom he recalled loaning his car — only to have both Stevenson and the vehicle disappear for two days. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and many others were also in attendance.
He said that he has only recently comprehended the impact that Motown’s legacy has had. “I was too busy to understand it, to appreciate it,” he said.
Gordy’s speech crowned the “Hitsville Honors” event, a three-and-a-half-hour-long show that featured performances from longtime Motown acts such as the Temptations, the Four Tops and Martha Reeves as well as younger label acts such as Big Sean, Kem and Ne-Yo.