Anna Gordy Gaye, left, and her sister, Esther Gordy Edwards, attend a city of Detroit event celebrating the life of Marvin Gaye in 1990. (Detroit News Photo Archive)
The Wednesday funeral for music entrepreneur and Motown executive Anna Gordy Gaye will be private, according to a family spokesperson.
Gaye died Jan. 31 in Los Angeles, at age 92, of natural causes.
In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for donations to be made in memory of Anna Gordy Gaye to the Gordy Foundation Inc., a Detroit-based nonprofit that gives scholarships to inner-city youth. The address is The Gordy Foundation Inc., 2656 West Grand Blvd., Detroit, MI 48208.
Gaye is defined in headlines by her relationship to powerful men — her brother was Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr., and her ex-husband Marvin Gaye. But like all the Gordy sisters, Anna was a memorable, entrepreneurial woman in her own right, integral in the founding of her brother’s Detroit company and in the revolutionary “Motown sound.”
Anna and sister Gwen Gordy founded Anna Records with songwriter Billy “Roquel” Davis in 1958, a year before Berry Gordy got his ducks in a row and launched Motown. Anna Records is a vital link in the Motown story, having first released “Money (That’s What I Want)” by Barrett Strong. When the struggling young Beatles found the record “Money” in a Liverpool shop and fell in love with it, they noticed that the British release credited it to the mysterious “Anna” label out of Detroit.
Strong, “Money” and Anna Records’ assets were acquired by brother Berry and his nascent Motown label, but it had already led to a significant relationship for Anna Gordy — the young Marvin Gaye was Anna Records’ staff drummer.
Despite their age difference — Anna was 17 years older — the two became inseparable. They married in 1963, leading to many fond references in song by Gaye (“You’re a Wonderful One” and “Pride and Joy,” to name two). She and Gaye lived in a house on West Outer Drive that belonged to her brother Berry before he moved to his Boston Boulevard mansion.
While Anna went to work for her brother at Motown, Gwen Gordy formed Tri-Phi Records with singer/producer Harvey Fuqua. Harvey’s son, Michael Fuqua, remembers Anna Gordy and her sisters as glamorous and inspirational but also dispensing tough love to him.
“The things these beautiful women did!” Fuqua exclaimed. “They were entrepreneurs. They were also all moms to me — Anna, Esther, Gwen and Loucye. They all played a role in me becoming the gentleman I am.”
Born Jan. 28, 1922, in Oconee, Ga., Anna Ruby Gordy was the third of eight children born to the hard-working Bertha Fuller Gordy and Berry Gordy Sr. The family moved to Detroit when she was just a year old, and her parents started several businesses, including a grocery store and a print shop. Like all the Gordy children, Anna was expected to pitch in.
Anna enjoyed horseback riding, and like all the Gordy sisters, took modeling instruction from Maxine Powell, and was featured in layouts in the Michigan Chronicle. In the mid-’50s, Anna and Gwen Gordy started a photo concession at the Flame Showbar, allowing their little brother, Berry, entree into the glamorous world of show business.
Anna and Gaye had one son, Marvin Gaye III. Their marriage foundered in the mid-’70s, and he started a relationship with (and eventually married) Janis Hunter, with whom he had children Frankie and Nona.
Although Gaye recorded the bitter album “Here, My Dear” about his broken marriage in order to raise money to pay his divorce settlement, he and Anna resolved their differences and became close friends again well before his death in 1984.
In a statement, Berry Gordy Jr. reflected upon his sister’s legacy.
“My sister Anna was the glamour girl of the family. She was beautiful, sexy, playful, lovely. Men loved her, but she lived for her family, especially her younger brothers, of which I was lucky enough to be one. She backed me up on everything I tried to do and gave me the confidence to be what I wanted to be. She gave me all the love that a sister could give a brother. When I first came to California as a teenage boxer, Anna lived there and I knew I would have a place to call home. I will miss her so dearly. What I’m grateful for most was that she lived to see me reach my goals and shared them all with me in happiness and joy.”