WXYZ-Detroit - If Berry Gordy, Jr. was the creative genius who created Motown, then his big sister, Esther Gordy Edwards was the glue that for decades held the music empire together and protected its international image. She was a tough businesswoman who had a big heart for Detroit and its people. At 91, she leaves behind a rich history of accomplishment.
Throughout Motown’s golden years, Edwards held many different executive positions and served as one of Berry Gordy’s best advisors. She was also never afraid to tell him when she disagreed with him. Her candor was something he valued in an entertainment business where it was often hard to know who to trust.
Edwards was equally protective of many of Motown’s biggest stars when they were just young Detroit musical diamonds in the rough. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops, The”Temptin” Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Martha Reeves, and Diana Ross are just some of the many superstars she groomed, counseled and protected.
But I think her greatest legacy is what she did after Berry moved one of America’s greatest recording businesses to Los Angeles. Esther stayed behind in her beloved Detroit and secured everything she could get her hands on that reflected the history of Motown. It was under her watch and guidance that “Hitsville, U.S.A.” on West Grand Boulevard has become a museum of treasured memories that tourists flock to from all over the world.
Some of Esther’s critics said she had too heavy of a hand over “Hitsville, U.S.A.”, and may have unknowingly prevented it from becoming a monument on the scale of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. But coming to that conclusion may be very premature. The real test of her vision will come from today’s Motown leaders who she picked to carry the dream forward: Robin Terry, Chairman and Executive Director of the Motown Historical Museum (also Ms. Edwards’ very capable granddaughter) and Audley Smith, President & CEO of the Museum. Together, they have big plans for taking “Hitsville, U.S.A.” to a higher level of development and marketing. We hope so! It is truly one of Detroit’s greatest assets and can become an even greater tribute to Ester Gordy Edwards.
But finally, what I remember most about Esther was her beautiful smile, flawless complexion, and down-to-earth personality. She was easy to talk to and I never heard her brag about who she was even though many African Americans looked upon her as Black royalty. I talked to her about it once at the Gordy Mansion on Detroit’s famed Boston Boulevard. It was clear to me that she fully understood the Gordy family historical contribution to the world.
If the Motown legacy lives forever it will be because Esther Gordy Edwards was one of the chief architects of the foundation upon which it stands!
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