By Ryan Velez
Black Enterprise has been putting out a series of articles celebrating the 45th anniversary of its roster of the nation’s largest Black-owned businesses – The BE 100s. This countdown has covered 45 milestone moments in Black business, and today’s subject is in 1988, where Berry Gordy sold Motown Records, which held the top spot on The BE 100s for a decade after its inception.
Berry Gordy started as a high school dropout and factory worker, but turned Motown Records into one of the most successful Black-owned music companies in history, with a roster of artists including Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, the Commodores, and many more household names.
Despite its success, by the 80’s, Motown was bleeding money and talent as an independent company up against multinational conglomerates. As a result, he had to sell Motown for $61 million to MCA Inc. and Boston Ventures Limited Partnership in 1988. Gordy kept other Motown subsidiaries including the highly profitable Jobete Music Co., and Motown’s film and television production unit. This unit produced TV specials like Motown’s 25th Anniversary in 1983 and the critically acclaimed 1989 miniseries, Lonesome Dove.
Gordy would later sell 50% of Jobete to EMI Music Publishing for $132 million in 1997, in what was viewed as one of the most significant music publishing deals ever in 1997. In 2003, EMI acquired another 30% of Jobete for $110 million and the remaining 20% in 2004 for about $80 million. This would mark the end of Gordy’s stake in Motown.
Many have recognized Gordy’s success and legacy both for Black culture and Black business. In 2000, Gordy set up the Gwendolyn B. Gordy Fund to help former Motown artists, musicians, and writers from the 1960s and 1970s with financial assistance. He also donated $750,000 to the charity. He has also earned several awards. In 2001, he received the A.G. Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award, Black Enterprise’s highest honor for business achievement. President Obama included him among the 2015 National Medal of Arts recipients.
The citation for him read, “To Berry Gordy, for helping to create a trailblazing new sound in American music. As a record producer and songwriter, he helped build Motown, launching the music careers of countless legendary artists. His unique sound helped shape our nation’s story.