Gordy guiding Motown's 50th anniversary

Tue Dec 9, 2008 5:02am EST
 
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By Gary Graff

DETROIT (Billboard) - With archival releases, documentaries and even a Broadway musical on tap, Berry Gordy, Jr., says there will be nowhere to run and nowhere to hide from the celebration of Motown's 50th anniversary during the coming two years.

Gordy, who founded the Motown empire after securing an $800 loan from his family on January 12, 1959, tells Billboard.com that "I've been fighting to protect the legacy for 50 years, and now it seems that after 50 years we can go and talk about the real deal, what really happened ... and how it happened, my story and everything that goes with it. And I'm just thrilled that I'm here to enjoy now what I couldn't enjoy while I was doing it."

The official Motown 50th celebration kicks off Tuesday with the release of "Motown: The Complete No. 1's,," a 10-disc set housed in a package designed to look like the company's original Hitsville U.S.A. headquarters in Detroit. Gordy and former Motown staffer Suzanne DePasse, who won a 1983 Emmy Award for the Motown 25th anniversary TV special, are also producing a Motown documentary that's due to roll out in September.

"It's about me and ... not only what I did and how I did it but how I felt doing it and what it was that happened, from my standpoint," explains Gordy. Among the footage is a videotaped session of one of the company's famed weekly Quality Control meetings, at which staffers argued over whether to release the Temptations' "My Girl" as a single.

A Broadway musical about Motown is due to open in 2010, and Gordy says there will also be "long-form, multi-part videos" about the company's history "because there's so much to tell. The documentary is just a two-hour thing."

Universal Music Enterprises, which handles Motown's archival releases, is also planning to support the activity with online podcasts and other special features. More retrospective titles are expected to come out over the course of the celebration, and the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit is planning a series of special events for 2009, including an In Their Own Words series with Motown alumni that will kick off January 12, a Marvin Gaye exhibit in April and a pumped-up version of its annual gala and concert in November.

"It's just a unique situation," Gordy notes, "and I'm the major recipient of that now because I can look back. It's a different kind of enjoyment. I enjoyed making the records. I enjoyed dealing with the people. Now I can look at it a different way and say, 'OK, we did it. We really did it.'"

Reuters/Billboard

 
<p>Motown founder Berry Gordy speaks after receiving the "Steven S. Cohen Humanitarian Award" during a tribute honoring Gordy at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Heart Foundation in Beverly Hills June 7, 2008. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas</p>