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Baldassare (Barney) Ales, a key executive at Motown Records during its 1960s prime and later its president, died of natural causes on Friday in Malibu, California, according to an announcement from his family. He was 85.

Ales — pictured above right, with Marvin Gaye — was born May 13, 1934 in Detroit and as a youth worked at Chrysler’s Dodge Main plant (significantly, Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. took inspiration for his fledgling company from the mass-production practices of the auto industry). At age 21, he joined the stockroom of Capitol Records’ local branch, advancing during the next four years to posts in sales and promotion before joining Warner Bros. Records in 1959 as its Detroit branch manager.

The following year, Ales met Gordy, who subsequently offered him a post as national sales manager and promotion director at his upstart record company.

From 1961-72, Ales — whose name will be familiar to anyone who has read a book on Motown’s history — played a central role in the label’s rapid growth and success, helping to break nationwide hits by the Marvelettes, Stevie Wonder, the Miracles, Mary Wells, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, the Four Tops and the Supremes, the latter of whom scored five consecutive No. 1 hits in 1964 and ‘65. In 1969, Ales was promoted to executive VP and general manager. In 1970, Motown scored a further seven No. 1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100, its highest total in a single year.

When Motown moved its headquarters to California in 1972, Ales remained in Detroit and launched his own label, Prodigal Records. In 1975, Gordy brought him back as executive VP of Motown Records in Los Angeles, later appointing Ales president. The company enjoyed another eight No. 1 singles under his watch, as well as the 14-week tenure at No. 1 of Stevie Wonder’s classic 1976 album “Songs in the Key of Life.”

After leaving Motown in 1979, Ales held senior posts at Elton John’s Rocket Records, Bob Guccione’s Penthouse Records and Norman Granz’s Pablo Records. He retired at the end of the century.

Ales is survived by wife Eileen; children Steven, Barney, Shelley, Brett and Cristina; nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

No funeral is planned; in lieu of flowers, the family is requesting donations be made to the Detroit Sound Conservancy:

http://detroitsound.org