News Column

Motown great feted at Marian Anderson Awards

November 20, 2013


Nov. 20--THE KIMMEL CENTER played host to music royalty last night as a star-studded group turned out to honor Motown founder and cultural icon Berry Gordy as the 2013 Marian Anderson Award recipient.

Across the street from the place where "The Sound of Philadelphia" -- Philly's version of Motown -- was crafted, musical impresarios including Smokey Robinson, Kool and the Gang and Boyz II Men feted Gordy, along with a tribute from "Philly Sound" producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff. Comedian-actor Chris Tucker hosted the event.

"I am supposed to be here 'cause you are celebrating my very best friend in the world," Robinson said. "He's the wind beneath my wings, he's my hero."

Robinson described meeting Gordy at age 16 and being with him the day Gordy decided to start Motown. He said the two shared a very close friendship, one that Gordy described as a "bromance."

Gordy, a high-school dropout who had a short pro boxing career, started Motown Records in Detroit in 1959. The label churned out such artists as Robinson, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and the Jackson Five, and Marvin Gaye. A member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Gordy also produced several films, including "Mahogany" and "Lady Sings the Blues."

"I am honored to receive this award, the Marian Anderson Award," said Gordy, who turns 84 next week. "Philadelphia has always been there [for me]."

Gordy discussed the importance of local radio DJs like Georgie Woods, Butter and Jerry Blavat to his success and popularity.

Huff stressed the impact Gordy had on the music world.

"Any songwriter who didn't get inspired by Motown wasn't a songwriter," Huff said before the gala, noting that Gordy had a "tremendous influence" on him.

"You had to learn something from Motown," Huff said. "I couldn't wait for a Motown record to come out so I could see what they were doing. And I loved every minute of it. And this award that Berry is getting is fantastic."

Gamble said: "There would be no Gamble and Huff if there was not a Berry Gordy and Motown."

Pamela Browner White, board chair of the award, said before the event that Gordy is "an icon of our time."

"If you think about crossover music, it has all been touched by the likes of Berry Gordy," White said.

The evening also featured performances by lesser-known talent Cody Wise, a rising Philadelphia singer who starred in the "Lion King" on Broadway, and actor Brandon Victor Dixon, who stars as Gordy himself in "Motown The Musical."

Started in 1998, the award honors artists whose humanitarian efforts benefit society. Past honorees include Elizabeth Taylor, Oprah Winfrey, Quincy Jones, Sidney Poitier and Bill Cosby.

Also recognized last night was former Gov. Ed Rendell, who founded the award during his time as mayor and was seen as a big arts advocate.

On Twitter: @ChroniclesofSol


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