Tamla Records was founded 60 years ago in Detroit by songwriter and budding music executive Berry Gordy Jr. The following year, it was incorporated as Motown Records. One of the label’s first artists, Lois Holden, celebrated her 109th birthday on Saturday.
She was known as Lois Russell then, performing with the Motown Gospel Stars group, led by Mae Gooch, her sisters Etta and Sandra Gooch, Elizabeth Davis, and Lillian Woods. The Gospel Stars signed with Motown in 1961 and actually had the first album released by the label, along with two singles.
“I knew Berry Gordy,” said Holden, recalling how she first started with the famous Detroit music label. “His father had a shop over there on Hastings Street.”
Berry Gordy Sr. and his wife Bertha Gordy owned the Booker T. Washington grocery store and several other businesses near Hastings Street in the early 1900s. Hastings was the main thoroughfare that ran through the former Black Bottom neighborhood. The predominately African-American neighborhood and Hastings Street (now the I-75 freeway) were both razed in the late 1950s for urban renewal.
Mother Holden was born February 2, 1910 in Thomaston, Alabama to Rev. John Wesley Cade and Lena Alice Harris. She migrated north to Detroit in 1936, settling on Quincy Street near Dexter Avenue, a little under two miles from where Motown Records’ headquarters were on West Grand Boulevard. Holden had one son, Richard J. Williams with deceased husband Ruben Holden.
Holden has spent her entire life in the church, since her father was a minster. She attended New Bethel Baptist Church when it was located in Black Bottom, then joined Coggins Memorial Christian Methodist Episcopal in 1962, and when that church closed, she joined Mt. Calvary Baptist Church on Detroit’s east side last August. That is where she celebrated her milestone, surrounded by family, friends, and her church home. Seated front-row, in her black fur coat, gold hat, and birthday sash, all eyes were on a woman that has lived through racism, segregation, discrimination and the Civil Rights Movement and is a part of the rich tradition at Motown Records.
“God has been good to me for 109 years and I lived the way he wanted me to live,” said Holden, as she addressed the Mt. Calvary congregation. “He brought me, my mother and father out of Alabama and I just want you to know, that I am somebody.”
During the birthday celebration, “Golden Holden”, as the church affectionately calls her, was honored with her own day at the church, State Rep. Isaac Robinson presented her with a proclamation from the state of Michigan, as well as the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit and Vicinity, and her niece who works for the city of Detroit, Cereta Cade, was able to get a Spirit of Detroit Award from City Council President Brenda Jones“Mother Holden is one of my constituents and they asked me to do a tribute to her life,” said Robinson, who represents District 4.
“This is the first tribute I’ve given to one of my constituents and what an honor is it to have it be Mother Holden. Her granddaughter said she has a picture of me and former President Barack Obama in her living room, so it’s cool to be backed by such a matriarch in our community.”
Holden lives on the city’s east side On Iroquois near Gratiot and receives 24-hour care from her family. But do not get it confused, she still speaks and moves well for her age. Her granddaughter, Michelle Williams, said she still cooks her famous gumbo and rolls around the house in her wheelchair vacuuming and cleaning her home. Holden was not able to go into great detail on her short tenure at Motown, and because she does not has Alzheimer’s disease at age 109, on any given day, she can tell you untold stories of Motown’s early days.
“She always talks about Berry Gordy and Diana Ross,” said Williams, whose father was a part of the Stylistics. “But her details of Diana Ross are different from our details of Diana Ross. She talks about Diana Ross’ parents and she can tell you what happened on the bus and in the hotels when all the Motown singers went on tour and what happened when Motown first started.”
Holden impacted the lives of many people, including that of John Awrey, whose parents owned Awrey’s Bakery. Holden worked five days a week as a housekeeper for the family and often stayed at the home when Awrey’s parents were away. He and his wife Dawn made the trip over from Brighton to be there for Sunday’s church service and ceremony.
“This is a woman, a mom, a person, that I don’t know what I would do without,” said Awrey, speaking to the congregation on Holden’s importance to his life. “This is one of the only people that I know was praying for me, even when I was two days old. I was born on December 22 and I came home on Christmas Eve. My parents were having a big Christmas party, they handed me to her and she took me up to my crib and prayed for me. And because of her prayers, I now know the Lord.”
Holden has outlived most of her family, but still has two grandchildren, Williams and Lisa Watkins of Virginia, four great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren that love her dearly. She said she cannot wait to celebrate her 110th.