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Berry Gordy wanted to make the world 'weep with joy'

Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, at his Los Angeles home in late October, is among this year's Kennedy Center honorees.Foto: Photo for The Washington Post by Jessica Pons Berry Gordy at Hitsville Studio in Detroit. Foto: Courtesy of West Grand Media, LLC Berry Gordy at home on Oct. 29. Foto: Photo for The Washington Post by Jessica Pons

LOS ANGELES - Berry Gordy enters his library without a hint of a flourish. It's a modestly sized room filled with souvenirs of his monumental accomplishments. The founder of Motown, the record label and popular music born in the late 1950s that became an expression of social transformation, is just shy of 92 on this October afternoon. He is neither tall nor brawny and he does not suck the oxygen out of the room by any larger-than-life force of will. Nonetheless, when the men and women standing by to minister to Gordy's needs call him "The Chairman," he does not look displeased.

Gordy no longer presides over Motown. He sold the company in 1988 for $61 million to MCA and an investment banking firm. But he remains the man who introduced the world to Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, the Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Lionel Richie and the Commodores, Gladys Knight and the Pips and so many other hit-making performers and songwriters that it would be easier to say that Gordy built one of the pillars of modern American culture. Motown is a place, a sound, a business and an era. It's a form of diplomacy that crosses international, generational and racial boundaries...

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