Not only does this week mark 4 weeks until Motown the Musical opens in London’s West End, but today also marks 57 years since Berry Gordy borrowed $800 from a family loan fund to set up Motown Records. To celebrate an incredible 57 years, we caught up with Berry Gordy himself at our London launch event to find out more about some of the most influential artists of the century as well as his connection to the UK.
How hard was it to capture the quality that Smokey [Robinson] had for the musical?
Berry: “Not very hard to capture because we are truly best friends and so it was easy because there’s so much love in Smokey. Smokey would have been an electrician if he hadn’t have met me! He reminds me all the time and he did more for me than I did for him because he was the soul of Motown. He wrote the first company song and he wrote hits for all of the early acts; Mary Wells and The Miracles…
We believe that truth is a hit, because life is many truths. We feel if we can depict reality people will relate to that. It was coming here [to the UK] that I realised that was a true statement. That first trip in 1965 changed my life because it was showing me that people around the world were like we were. That was always my thought; that we’re all the same, we laugh at the same things, and we cry about the same things, we love the same things. It was proven to me when I came across here on that tour and I saw all of our ideas in music had been transmitted over here. They became such loyal fans so I’m back here not enjoying it more than I did then because I was in the middle of it, I was working. Now I’m sitting back, looking at this and it’s still prevalent.”
The other character that must have been important for you to capture in the show was Diana [Ross]?
Berry: “Diana Ross was unique, absolutely unique. She worked harder than everybody else because she really wanted it. I fell in love with her ambition and I wanted to make her the biggest star in the world. She believed in me enough to let me do that, and the thing was that to find someone that believed in me was just non-existent. I had to fight ever way I could, and she believed in me and was willing to work for it. And of course naturally I fell in love with her, but that was more in love with her becoming the biggest star in the world. So when we broke up it was because of that. I said if this is going to get in the way we can’t do it.”
Marvin [Gaye] must have been very different, almost at the other end of the scale compared to Diana?
Berry: “Marvin was, I say, the truest artist I’ve ever known. What he believed in, a lot of things were wrong, but he believed and he was true to himself and true to his beliefs. The thing he was right about was my preaching that we wanted to reflect what we felt and what other people felt and the truth. When he came up with his protest album, I didn’t like it because Motown wasn’t known for that. It was known for love songs and great lyrics, Smokey Robinson and that sort of thing. He said “I’ve got a brother in Vietnam and I don’t care about none of that, all I care about is telling the truth and you always preach that, but when I’m trying to do it you don’t let me do it”; because I didn’t want to release the album.
It turned out to be our biggest album; it was real for him, it was real for the public and that particular album sold more than any other record at Motown at the time. Marvin was just incredible, you know he was caught up in his own wrong ideas and then with his father, who was a very, very religious person, a minister, and it was just rough. But he was the truest artist that I ever worked with.”
Book your tickets today for the next Chapter in Motown’s extraordinary legacy!