Tuesday, May 28, 2024


A Conversation with Berry Gordy and Daughter Sherry

by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud

Barry Gordy

To the millions for whom his legendary record label has provided a soundtrack to their lives, Motown founder Berry Gordy is the wildly successful mogul who gifted the world with the talents of Smokey Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, The Temptations, Four Tops and Jackson Five — to name just a few.

To his daughter, Sherry Gordy, he is not simply the best father she could have asked for: Indeed, as depicted in the television movie “The Jacksons: An American Dream,” the late Michael Jackson wished as a young man that he was Berry Gordy’s son. In Sherry’s eyes, her dad is also the ultimate counselor and sounding board.

“My father’s love is the cornerstone of my success,” said the Las Vegas resident, when she and her father sat down with Black Image for a wide-ranging conversation about their relationship and his formula for achievement. “His love lets me know that he will always be there for me. His leadership impacts my life and shows me that, as his daughter, those same skills lie within me.”

To discuss the topic of success with Berry Gordy is to receive a primer on, as described in the title of author Dennis Kimbro’s bestseller, “What Makes the Great Great.” Unsurprisingly, his passion for success began at an early age.

“I remember everyone running out into the streets in front of my home when I was 8 years old, screaming with happiness and laughter after hearing on the radio that Joe Louis, the prizefighter, had knocked out his opponent, Max Schmeling, in the first round,” Gordy recalled. “Joe Louis represented America, ‘The Land of the Free,’ and won against Schmeling from Nazi Germany. Joe Louis was everyone’s hero. More importantly, he was black like me. When I saw my mother and father crying with joy, it amazed me and was the greatest feeling I ever had. I knew, from that point on, I wanted to bring that kind of joy and happiness to other people.”

For him, that sense of responsibility extended naturally to those whose careers he helped shape. “I consider all of the wonderful Motown artists as my children,” he said. “It was never complicated bringing up this fine talent, and we were like a great big close family. We spent the majority of time together — and especially Marvin Gaye, who married my sister. Raising my biological children was a little more complicated, because I was working with the artists all the time. Nevertheless, my children would travel with me to different places, and the same philosophy I would teach the artists at Motown, I would teach my own children.”

Two of the keys to that philosophy: Self-confidence and competitiveness. “I compete with everybody,” he acknowledged. “I have a hard time beating my daughter, Sherry, sometimes in competitive games — but I love to play tennis, golf, chess and checkers. Motown Records was all about love and competition. Sometimes the competition got in the way of love between the artists, but love would always win out.”

While sympathetic to the many challenges facing black America — particularly the plight of young African-American males growing up in fatherless homes — Gordy insists that no obstacle is too difficult to overcome. “I would say to black children being raised by their mothers or grandparents that they should not use their situation as an excuse for not succeeding. There are a lot of fatherless homes, and people still manage to become great human beings,” he said. “There are also a lot of orphans who beat the odds. I would tell children who don’t have a father in the home to listen very closely to their mothers, who traditionally have a lot of wisdom. Try to make your mothers proud. Any reason people have for not succeeding is an excuse. This is the real world, and real life, and sometimes it is not fair. But you can take negatives and make positives out of them. Once you do that a couple of times, nothing will bother you.”

He added: “It is not so much what your children should know — instead, it is more about what they should be. We should stress to our children that they should be good people with great character, integrity, pride and competitiveness. They must understand you have to be something before you can do something. If you are a good person … then you start figuring out how to make money. But, really it all begins from who you are as a person. It might take you a little longer, but when you have great character and integrity, people will trust and believe in you — and that’s where success comes from.”

Despite the tens of millions he has earned for himself and others, Gordy does not consider material wealth to be the pinnacle of success. “Fame and fortune is good, but it does not bring you happiness,” he said. “I teach all my children, as well as my artists, that true happiness comes from being truly proud of yourself for the accomplishments you make. My dreams are my dreams, and my children can learn from my experiences — but I want them to reach their own goals and make their dreams become realities.”

Sherry could not agree more with her father’s world view. “The greatest gift my father has given me is his love, respect, trust and friendship,” she said. “With these gifts, I can do anything.”

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