The Late Gordy Sisters: Detroit and Motown Records Gifts to the World

There’s an old saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman.”

If true, in the case of Berry Gordy, founder and chief architect of Motown Records and the Motown Sound, four phenomenal women stood behind him – his sisters Esther, Anna, Loucye, and Gwen. The Gordy sisters not only stood behind their brother but also next to him and sometimes in front of the man to help put Motown Records on the world’s music map in 1959.

Throughout the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s, and beyond, the Gordy Sisters were a force to be reckoned with as they blazed many trails that were previously uncharted for women, especially Black women, in the music industry. In addition to their successes across broad spectrums of the music business, Esther, Anna, Loucye, and Gwen Gordy were also known for their flair for sophistication, class, fashion, and philanthropic/civic endeavors.

Esther Gordy (Edwards), the oldest of the Gordy sisters, was born in Georgia on April 25, 1920. After moving to Detroit with her family, she graduated from Cass Technical High School before attending Howard University and Wayne State University. A proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) Sorority, Esther became an influential figure at Motown Records. In her more than three decades with Motown, Esther held multiple executive roles, including corporate secretary, director of the Artists Personal Management Division, and senior vice president. Esther was said to know every aspect of the business and financial ends of the company and music industry.

When Motown Records officially moved to Los Angeles in the early 1970s, taking the heart and soul of the company with it, Esther stayed in Detroit, becoming the face of the label in the Motor City. While she sat on numerous civic, arts, and civil rights boards locally and nationally, Esther devoted thousands of hours to meticulously combing through 10s of thousands of discarded documents, photos, awards, and other artifacts and memorabilia left behind by the company’s westward move. In 1985, under Esther’s vision, The Motown Museum opened. “She collected Motown’s history long before we knew we were making it,” Berry Gordy said in previous interviews about the Museum’s genesis. Her husband, the late Michigan State Representative George Edwards, preceded Esther in death. Esther Gordy (Edwards) died on August 24, 2011. She was 91.

Anna Gordy (Gaye), the second oldest of the Gordy sisters, was born in Georgia on January 28, 1922, before migrating to Detroit with her family.   Anna matriculated through the city’s school system before becoming a music pioneer in her own right. Before her brother Berry started Motown Records in 1959, Anna was already a record distributor and entrepreneur; she owned Anna Records with her sister, Gwen Gordy. Motown absorbed the record company in the early ‘60s. Anna Records recorded dozens of artists, including The Falcons, David Ruffin, Joe Tex, and Johnny Bristol. The record label’s biggest hit was “Money (That’s What I Want),” recorded by singer/songwriter Barrett Strong.

Anna wrote – with Marvin Gaye – Baby I’m for Real and The Bells, recorded by The Originals. Anna and Marvin also co-wrote Flyin High (In the Friendly Sky), and God is Love for Marvin Gaye’s momentous album What’s Going On, released on Motown Records in 1971. Anna reportedly met Gaye when he moved to Detroit as a singer/session drummer, first for her label and later for Motown. Gaye was in his early 20s, and Anna was in her mid-to-late 30s.   The two were married from 1964 to 1977. In 1978, Marvin released Here My Dear, a double album on the Tamla label (a subsidiary of Motown). The recordings painted the personal and raw recollections of his marriage to Anna, which ended in divorce. Nevertheless, the two reportedly reconciled as friends years later. Anna Gordy (Gaye) died on January 31, 2014. She was 92.

Loucye Gordy (Wakefield), the third oldest of the Gordy sisters, was born in 1924 in Detroit. She served as vice president of Jobete Music Publishing Company. Aside from her executive acumen, Loucye co-wrote songs in the early 1960s. In conjunction with her brother Berry and Motown’s Smokey Robinson, she penned Don’t Let Him Shop Around. The song, released by singer Debbie Dean, Motown’s first white artist, was a clever answer to Smokey and The Miracles’ 1960 hit, Shop Around.

In the late 1950s, Loucye married tenor saxophonist Ron Wakefield, who played on many Motown recordings, including The Miracles’ Shop Around.  Loucye Gordy Wakefield passed suddenly on July 24, 1965, at a Detroit hospital. She was 40. Several years after her death, the Loucye Wakefield Scholarship Fund was established to provide funds to selected Detroit high school graduates headed to college.

Gwen Gordy (Fuqua)

Gwen Gordy (Fuqua), the youngest of the Gordy sisters, was born Nov. 26, 1927, in Detroit. She went on to become a savvy businesswoman and a talented songwriter/composer. Her first entrepreneurial venture was operating a photo concession at Detroit’s Flame Show Bar, a legendary venue where top local and national singers and recording artists performed. She made many contacts at the venue that would pay dividends in the late 1950s into the ‘60s to benefit Anna Records, which she co-founded with her sister Anna Gordy. Her connections also aided Berry in the upstart of Motown Records. Gwen later founded and successfully operated three other music companies:  Gwen Glenn Productions, Der-Gleen Publishing, and Old Brompton Road Publishing.

As a songwriter, Gwen co-wrote several hits, such as Lonely Teardrops (Jackie Wilson), All I Could Do Was Cry (Etta James), Distant Lover (Marvin Gaye), That’s What Boys Are Made for (Tammi Terrell), and more. In 1961, Gwen married Harvey Fuqua, lead singer of the doo-wop group the Moonglows. Following a divorce, she married G.C. Cameron, formerly of the Spinners. Gwen Gordy Fuqua died in November 1999 in San Diego. She was 71.

Without the pioneering vision and forward thinking of the four Gordy sisters – Esther, Anna, Loucye, and Gwen – it’s unclear if Motown would have reached its pinnacle of greatness. However, in his 1994 autobiography, To Be Loved, The Music, The Magic, The Memories of Motown, Berry Gordy alluded to his sisters’ impact on him, his vision, and Motown Records.

“The Gordy women were always in charge,” he wrote as a caption to a photo of the four sisters and his mother, Bertha Ida Fuller Gordy. Berry also dedicated his best-selling autobiography to two of his sisters, writing, “To my sisters, Gwen and Anna, who think they own me – and they do!”







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