The Way It Was — Esther Gordy, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder

Take a closer look at this 1998 photo of these music icons at the Motown Museum.
Photograph by Rebecca Cook

1998Esther Gordy Edwards, the sister of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, stands on the steps of the Motown Museum with Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder before giving them a personal tour of the iconic Hitsville USA Studio A at 2648 W. Grand Blvd. that draws thousands of visitors annually from around the globe.

Amazingly, from 1959 to 1972 the studio was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and produced more than 100 top 10 hits by numerous legendary stars that included, among others, Smokey Robinson, The Supremes, The Temptations, The Four Tops, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, The Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Jackson Five, and Stevie Wonder, who in 1961 as 11-year-old Steveland Judkins Morris signed with the company.

By 1970, Motown (with its various labels) had become the world’s largest independent manufacturer of single 45 rpm records and was for some time the largest Black-owned corporation in America.

As an integral part of the Motown legacy, Esther Gordy Edwards served in a variety of positions for the company, ranging from corporate secretary to senior vice president and director of Motown international operations. In addition to her Motown work, Edwards was the first woman elected to the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce and the Detroit Bank of the Commonwealth.

When Motown’s headquarters moved to Los Angeles in 1972, Edwards stayed behind and maintained a corporate office at the Hitsville USA building, where she often graciously gave curious fans knocking at the door impromptu tours of the famous studio.

With her vast collection of Motown memorabilia and passionate desire to preserve the company’s legacy, in 1985 Edwards founded the Motown Museum, a nonprofit organization that in 1987 was declared a historic site by the state of Michigan. In 1995, museum renovations included the addition of a gallery and the restoration of the original offices and upstairs flat where Berry Gordy lived with his family throughout his 30s.

Edwards passed away in 2011 at age 91, but her work continues at the museum under the direction of her granddaughter, Chairwoman and CEO Robin Terry.

The last segment of the museum’s $65 million expansion is slated to begin this spring, which staff say will include a brand-new 40,000-square-foot building behind Hitsville USA.

This story is from the February 2024 issue of Hour Detroit magazine. Read more in our digital edition. Plus, find even more The Way It Was articles at