December 02, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

To Be Loved

Current Status
In Season
Berry Gordy
Biography, Memoir, Music
We gave it a B

The title of Berry Gordy’s autobiography, To Be Loved, might lead one to believe that the founder of Motown is the prototypical lost soul, and that his book will be a sort of whiny chronicle of the powerful man’s inner need for emotional sustenance and his efforts to find himself. But one would be wrong. Love actually doesn’t come into it very much, at least not in the person-to-person sense (although he does spend some time on his now-famous relationship with Diana Ross). Rather, ambition seems to have been the driving force of Gordy’s life, and the primary subject of this work; his book might have been better titled To Be Successful.

Starting with his early days in Detroit, Gordy tells his story as he sees it, refuting persistent allegations that he worked with the Mafia and cheated ) various musicians out of profits. His prose is always breathlessly enthusiastic, whether describing the thrill of hearing a young Smokey Robinson sing one of his own songs (”’Stop, stop, I love it!’ I shouted. Stopping, (Robinson) said, ‘Wait, there’s a lot more.’ ‘Oh, I know that, but I love it now,’ I said”) or detailing a temper tantrum thrown by Ross during the 1975 shooting of Mahogany when Miss Diana decided she didn’t want to do another take: ”Then she did something. I don’t know what it was, a slap, a shove, something. Whatever it was sent my glasses flying across the room as I turned to see her storm off to her trailer. EMBARRASSING…. I hurried after her, still in a daze.”

Gordy seems to be genuinely fond and appreciative of the people — from secretaries to stars — with whom he has worked. And as the man who discovered Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, and the Jackson 5, he has an undeniably brilliant ear for music. He gave many irreplaceable voices a chance to have their say, and he deserves the opportunity to have his own — even if it’s not as melodic or as affecting as any of his employees’ hits. B

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