THE Q&A: New show celebrates early era of Motown Records

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

A lot of people grew up listening to Motown music.

So did Karla Gordy Bristol because it was the family business.

The daughter of singer Johnny Bristol (“Hang On In There Baby”) and Iris Gordy (the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. and a one-time company vice president), Gordy Bristol wants everyone to understand how the label she loves and admires came to change popular music as we know it.

So, through her Bristol Entertainment production company (a subsidiary of Bristol Enterprise), Gordy Bristol created, produced and directed the world premiere of “Motown: Celebrating The Music, The Magic, The Love,” a show highlighting the early era of the label which has candid conversations and performances by artists and executives who were there in the beginning.

The show, led by radio personality and announcer Shadoe Stevens, and master of ceremonies and award-winning KCAL 9 news anchor Pat Harvey, is being promoted as a unique opportunity to experience an evening with music trailblazers and icons who will share their rare insights into the music and the stories behind it, that positively impacted people and music around the globe.

It includes a Motown panel, moderated by four-time Grammy nominee Patrice Rushen, featuring artists, writers, producers and executives including Brian Holland of the songwriting team of Holland, Dozier and Holland; Claudette Robinson of The Miracles; Iris Gordy, former Motown vice president and associate producer on the show; Janie Bradford, co-writer of “Money That’s What I Want”; and Miller London, pioneering record salesman.

Highlights include nostalgic stories shared by Smokey Robinson, Otis Williams (The Temptations), The Four Tops’ Duke Fakir, and Martha Reeves (of Martha and the Vandellas” who will all relive the days of “Hitsville U.S.A.”

Keyboardist Herman Jackson is the evening’s music director, while Grammy-winner Thelma Houston, Brenda Holloway, Scherrie, Lynda & Susaye (former ladies of The Supremes), are slated to perform.

Presented by Wallis Annenberg Center for The Performing Arts, the show takes place at 7 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Wallis’ Bram Goldsmith Theater, located at 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd, Beverly Hills.

The show is sold out. There is a waitlist.

The event is supported by Sony Music Group and the Berry Gordy Foundation for Truth and Justice.

This is not Gordy Bristol’s first production. She has a number of producing credits including The Trumpet Awards, 100 Black Men of America, the dedication of Berry Gordy Square, Ray Parker Jr.’s Hollywood Star reception, Miss Sacramento County USA Pageant and several award shows. She is also the co-founder and co-producer of the Friends of Fuller Strikefest (bowling event), which supports nonprofit organizations. Fuller Gordy was her grandfather.

Born in Detroit and raised in Beverly Hills, Gordy Bristol, a talk show host, singer, and dancer has been around entertainment her entire life, including a stint working at Motown.

The famous record company produced more than 100 Top 10 hits from legendary groups like The Supremes, The Temptation, The Four Tops, The Jackson 5, Smokey Robinson and The Miracles, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Tammi Terrell, Mary Wells, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, and more.

I recently caught up with Karla Gordy Bristol, who is also on the Beverly Hills Arts & Culture Commission, to talk about the upcoming tribute to Motown.

DD: What will audiences see and hear?

KGB: I developed this show 12 years ago. I had a constant passion and desire to create the show, to help celebrate the remarkable Motown story and history that has impacted the globe. I want to highlight the fact that it brings people of all ages and denominations together. I absolutely love hearing the impact of people about how it welcomes everybody. We need that more than ever. After George Floyd, the outcry, and then the horrific racism that resonated through politics, I realized people wanted to unite. We had to do something to bring happiness, peace and joy to people.

DD: How has your show’s vision changed over the 12 years?

KGB: It has developed. Initially, I wanted to focus strictly on conversations with those who contributed to the success of Motown. I wanted the artists, writers, producers, arrangers, executives and artist performers. I wanted people to hear the various stories. First, it was just going to be a moderated panel. I wanted it this way because there are unsung people at Motown.

DD: How do you put together a show like this?

KGB: It has grown. It grew to more of a concert/Motown panel discussion with visuals. It’s about celebrating those people. There is so much to this story. It’s like a tree that has all these branches. It’s a production. I’ve incorporated videos. That way we can reach people who were involved with Motown who may not be available but wanted to be a part of it.

Everything on the show has a specific tie-in.  My mother, Iris Gordy, had a story. She was an executive and she was a writer.  She wrote “The Bells.” We also have Janie Bradford, who started as a secretary and then wrote a hit. And, of course, we’ll have Brian Holland of Holland, Dozier and Holland. I want people to understand how Motown happened.

DD: What is it about Motown?

KGB: That’s the magic. The magic is that spark that begs the question, why is this music different? My personal take on it is it’s the people. Uncle Berry [Gordy] is a genius. He knew how to bring people together, select people and bring the best out of them. He selected remarkably talented people for his company. He put together the right team. He embraced talent and smart people. He had the ability to pick and choose people who could create hit music.

DD: What does Motown mean to you?

KGB: To me it’s family. It’s something, an extension of my own immediate family. It’s something I’ve known since the day I was born. All my family worked in it. It was a family business. It’s just what they did. It was normal life.

DD: When did you really become aware of the impact of Motown and its place in history?

KGB: In high school. I would invite my friends to concerts. My family went to the Grammys every year. I used to go to video shoots. I saw how my friends would react. They were excited and were fans. They would say, “this is amazing.” For me, it was like, “what, it’s just Uncle Smokey.” I liked watching their reactions. I sat back and was like, “wow, this is special to people.” I was probably in the 10th grade at Beverly Hills High School. When I was younger, I didn’t see the value. I grew up in it so I didn’t see it – until …

Then, I started seeing what dad was doing. I started listening to things in a different way. I had to rep it in the light it deserves. Motown has brought people together. It’s all about love.

“The Q&A” is a feature of Wave Newspapers asking provocative or engaging questions of some of L.A.’s most popular newsmakers or celebrities.

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at