The late Gwendolyn "Gwen" Gordy-Fuqua deserves a big footnote in Motown's history. The vivacious, beautiful, partying lady succumbed to cancer November 8, 1999 in her San Diego, CA home, and was laid to rest in a family plot in Detroit, MI, November 15, 1999. She's survived by a son, Glenn Gordy, sisters' Esther Edwards and Anna Gaye and brothers' Robert, George, and Berry; sister and brother Loucye and Fuller, and parents, Bertha & Berry "Pops" Gordy, Sr., preceded Gwen.
Gwen always craved bright lights and glamour. She and Anna landed the photo/cigarette concession at the Flame Show Lounge in Detroit and met all the stars who performed there, including Billie Holiday, Sam Cooke, and Jackie Wilson. It was lucrative, people dressed to kill, and stood in line to get their pictures taken for 50 cents a shot, excellent money for the times. It didn't hurt that Gwen and Anna were cold-stone beauties with hourglass shapes who decked themselves out in dazzling outfits coordinated down to matching shoes and wigs. All the Gordy women were stylish and hip, but Gwen and Anna were voracious party animals. Esther, who married a Michigan legislator, and Loucye, who passed away in 1965, were more refined than their acid-tongued sisters.
She started writing songs with her boyfriend Roquel Billy Davis, who often used the name Tyran Carlo. Hooking up with Berry Gordy, Jr., the three became a formidable team, and wrote for the Five Stars, Jackie Wilson, Marv Johnson, and others. They wrote five hits in a row for Wilson: "Reet Petite," "Lonely Teardrops," "That's Why I Love You So," "To Be Loved," and "I'll Be Satisfied." The trio separated, partly because Berry had a disagreement with Nat Tarnapool, Jackie Wilson's manager, which ended their relationship as Wilson's songwriters. You can't blame Berry, though, he wanted to have the songwriting credit on both sides of the 45 rpm. They got tired of seeing songs that Tarnapool hoodwinked from someone appear on the flipsides of their hits. Both songs on a record received equal mechanical monies for records sold, Gwen, Billy, and Berry divided their share three ways, so Tarnapool's practice of using songs he credited to family members as B-sides became unbearable.
Gwen and Billy formed Anna Records, and wanted Berry to be President, but he had no interest. The wounds were still fresh from a disastrous partnership with his brother George. The two ran the unsuccessful 3D Record Mart: The House of Jazz, and bickered over everything including the name, Berry wanted to call it the 3D Record Mart: The House That Jams Built, but acquiesced to his older brother's choice.
Anna Records (named after Anna Gordy, a limited partner) artists included Joe Tex, the Voice Masters, Johnny (Bristol) & Jackey (Beavers), Lamont Anthony (Dozier), Herman Griffin, and David Ruffin. Chess records distributed Anna and initially, everything was fine. Berry started Tamla Records around the same time, but the jocks greeted his endeavor with indifference. Berry still sought the Motown sound, early Tamla recordings were either blues-based or uninspired doo wop -- not exactly the sound of Young America. When Berry produced "Money," by Barrett Strong, he struck a deal with Gwen and Billy for national distribution, while Tamla handled the record in Michigan. Ironically, it became Anna's biggest record.
Problems between Gwen and Billy started before Leonard Chess dispatched Harvey Fuqua, the former Moonglow, to Detroit to help out at Anna. Davis was on the road a lot promoting Anna recordings, his absence made Gwen's heart wander. Harvey and Gwen fell in love, and Davis left to form Checkmate Records, which Chess distributed, taking David Ruffin and releasing "Mr. Bus Driver," and "Action Speaks Louder Than Words," of the future Temptation. Gwen, and Harvey forged on with Anna. The song "All I Could Do Was Cry," by Etta James, explains the drama between Gwen, Billy, Harvey, and Etta, Harvey left Etta to marry Gwen, so the song fit the situation to a tee. When Checkmate folded, Davis moved to Chi-town and became Chess' A&R Director. He supervised sessions for Jimmy Reed, Billy Stewart, Maurice McCallister & the Radiants, Jackie Ross, the Gems, Fontella Bass, and a shopping list of others.
Even with Harvey's hookups, Anna had problems staying afloat, forcing Gwen to borrow $10,000 from Berry. The 10 G's didn't last long and by 1961, after 28 single releases, Anna Records was history. Harvey and Gwen started Tri-Phi and Harvey Records, taking many of Anna's artists, and adding others, including the Spinners, Shorty Long, Jr. Walker & the All-Stars, the Five Quails ("Got to Get to School on Time,"), and Challengers 3 featuring Ann Bogan ("Honey, Honey, Honey"). Slow payment from distributors sunk the labels, and by the middle of 1963, most of their artists, producers, and writers merged with Motown.
Gwen became a main cog in Artist Development where artists learn all the rules of etiquette; Harvey did a variety of jobs. Motown took off like a rocket after they rid themselves of the blues artists and session musicians, and brought in the jazzier sounds of the Funk Brothers, and younger artists. Plus, they had people like Smokey Robinson, Holland-Dozier-Holland, Norman Whitfield, and William Stevenson and Ivy Hunter writing and producing monster hits.
Staying in the background during Motown's glory years, Gwen also worked as a fashion model. Toward the late '60s her marriage with Harvey ended and she became more involved, and was instrumental in getting G.C. Cameron to stay and not follow the Spinners to Atlantic Records, a move Cameron regrets now. An extensive campaign to establish Cameron failed miserably. She discovered High Inergy, who hit the first time out with "You Can't Turn Me On," but never had another. A prolific songwriter, she wrote "Distant Lover," with Sandra Green and Marvin Gaye, and has more than 75 songs to her credit, including "Lonely Teardrops," "To Be Loved," and "You Got What It Takes."
When Berry left for Southern California, most of the Gordys followed except Esther and George who remained in Detroit. Gwen lived in a fantastic house in Beverly Hills and threw legendary, lavish parties. She was financially healthy and owned the publishing to Anita Baker's "Sweet Love." Her health, aggravated by L A's smog, wasn't good, and worried the Gordys, who wanted Gwen to change climates for health reasons, it was a hard sell, but she eventually settled on a ranch and bred horses. Gwen Gordy-Fuqua left us November 8, 1999 but her spirit lives on.