- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 3, 2015

Motown Records impresario Berry Gordy was honored by the Congressional Black Caucus at the House Rayburn building Thursday afternoon with an award recognizing his contributions to the music industry.

Motown sold millions of records and helped launched the careers of Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross and the Supremes and many others at a time when black musicians had a difficult time getting airplay on national radio.

This week, the show “Motown the Musical” is bowing at the District’s National Theatre; the character of Berry Gordy is played by Josh Tower.

Mr. Gordy, 86, related how he and his family were inspired by the famous Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling boxing match of 1938.

“There was a major contest, America versus Germany, and Joe Louis knocked him out in the first round,” Mr. Gordy recalled. “I saw my mother and father crying. My father told me that Joe Louis was a hero of all the world — and he was black like me. And I realized that that’s what I wanted to do: make that many people happy.”

Mr. Gordy initially pursued a career as a boxer, but music was never far from his heart during his Detroit youth. He said he didn’t start Motown with an eye toward being a civil rights hero; rather he had three other things in mind: “make music, make money and to get girls. Absolutely not in that order,” he said to a round of laughter.

Mr. Gordy’s dating frustrations as a young man who was “short [and] not masculine enough” and “couldn’t dance” fueled some of his early songs, including “Do You Love Me,” with its opening spoken lines: “You broke my heart ‘cause I couldn’t dance; you didn’t even want me around. And now I’m back to let you know I can really shake ‘em down.”

Mr. Gordy related how Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to his Detroit home along with Jesse Jackson as the Civil Rights era was heating up in America. Mr. Gordy related how King’s message of turning the other cheek was foreign to him as a boxer, but it was key to the ongoing campaign of passive resistence to effect change.

Incredily, the reverend also came onto Motown’s payroll.

“Dr. King told me that my music was really about social integration while he was trying to bring about intellectual and political integration,” Mr. Gordy said. “He wanted me to join him in his movement, and he wanted to be a part of Motown, my label.”

Motown put out King’s spoken-word LPs, including “The Great March on Washington” and “The Great March to Freedom.”

Rep. John Conyers Jr., the Michigan Democrat whose district encompasses Detroit, presented Mr. Gordy with a plaque.

“Through the medium of music, during its most tumultuous times, Berry Gordy through Motown Records established a uniquely American artform,” Mr. Conyers said. “I want to present this award honoring the achievements of Berry Gordy and the musical history he created through Motown.”

As they were leaving the stage, Mr. Gordy and Mr. Conyers were suddenly joined by Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, who wished to express his gratitude to the record executive.

“What he has done for the self-esteem of black folks, not only all over America, but all over the world, has not been properly recorded in our history books,” Mr. Rangel, 85, said. “For those who are old enough to remember when we didn’t have television, for those of us who really thought that Sarah Vaughn and Billie Holiday [were the only black entertainers], for those of us that when we looked at television [and only saw] white artists … you never knew the inspiration that you gave to young people … to make us a part of this great America.”

“I’ve never had too many good things to say about Detroit,” Mr. Rangel, a native of Harlem, said to laughter. “But let me tell you, you gave birth to Motown, you gave birth to the black contribution to this country that can never be taken away. I’m indebted to you and Detroit. Mr. Gordy, whatever you got out of this, black folks in America got much more, and I just came here to say thank you.”

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