Monday 24 October 2016

Diana Ross and I are still 'best of friends', says Mr Motown

Published 22/05/2016 | 00:06

Diana Ross's former lover and the man credited with making her a superstar, Berry Gordy, says they are still the "best of friends".

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Music producer and songwriter Gordy is the founder of Motown Records and recognised as the force behind successful musicians like Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Jackson 5.

Despite having written mega hits such as Do You Love Me?, he revealed that Ross's I Hear a Symphony is still "extremely special" to him.

The 86-year-old appeared on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs and said: "I had this wonderful relationship that turned into a great love relationship, but I was more interested in making her the biggest star in the world. Managing her career and developing her career was the greatest joy I had."

The pair never married but had a daughter together.

Explaining why he chose the song as one of his discs, he told host Kirsty Young: "It was kind of our song together, whenever she would sing it, it was like she was singing it to me I felt."

Also known as Mr Motown, as a young man he loved boxing and considered a career in the profession, but it was his love of music that saw him opening his first record shop in Detroit at the age of 23.

The business went bankrupt, forcing him to take a job on an car assembly line, where he would write songs in his spare time. His career on the assembly line was a short one, and he quit to start writing songs full-time.

His wife at the time kicked him out, forcing him to go and live with his sister, but it led to him writing the hit song, To Be Loved, which was then recorded by soul singer Jackie Wilson and became the name of his 1994 autobiography.

"The words came easily," he said, explaining why he had chosen the song as his second disc, "It was the easiest song I've ever had to write, because I thought about what was happening to me. Jackie Wilson recorded it and it was a hit."

Soon after Motown Records was born and it grew to become one of the most successful independent record labels in America.

The father of eight, who has been married three times, also become good friends with Dr Martin Luther King and released three albums of his speeches on the Motown label.

His autobiography formed the basis for the hit production Motown: The Musical which he wrote. The production charts the rise of Gordy's career and how he built the empire that became Motown Records.

The music mogul shared the inspiration behind one of the hit songs from the show, Can I Close The Door (On Love) and why he chose it as one of his discs.

Many of his artists were bought out by bigger record labels over the years, he explained, including Ross who he said "left for twenty million to go to RCA records".

They decided to host a 25-year celebration of his career, but at the time he said he "refused to go because I had been so hurt that they had left me at a critical time in my career".

He said: "I kept saying I wasn't going... Smokey told me these people had come to honour me and I wasn't going and how sad that was and it turned out I could not close the door on these people, if it had been me in their situation and someone offered me twenty million dollars I might have gone."

Gordy chose a wine cellar as his luxury item and the Rudyard Kipling poem 'If' as his book.

:: Desert Island Discs can be heard on BBC Radio 4 on May 22 at 11.15am.

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