Esther Gordy Edwards, Motown Exec and Museum Founder, Dies

1:22 PM PST 08/25/2011 by Marc Schneider, Billboard
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Smokey Robinson and Esther Gordy Edwards in 1967

She died of natural causes at the age of 91.

NEW YORK -- Esther Gordy Edwards, who founded the Motown Museum to preserve the legacy of the iconic record label her brother Berry founded, has died at age 91. According to her family, Gordy Edwards died of natural causes.

Berry Gordy, in a statement released Thursday, praises his sister's work as a top Motown executive and civil rights leader. In the mid-1960s, she served as vice president and chief financial officer at the Detroit-based label, rightfully dubbed Hitsville U.S.A. for the parade of hits from groups like The Supremes, Jackson 5 and Four Tops. A Howard University grad, Berry Gordy calls Esther, "the most educated in our family and was the go-to person for wisdom in business."

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Her greatest impact, however, came after Berry Gordy sold the company in 1988 and she, in his words, "turned the so-called trash left behind … into a phenomenal world-class monument." Descrbed as one of Michigan's top touris attractions, the museum's website says its "mission is to preserve the legacy of Motown Record Corporation and to educate and motivate people, especially youth, through exhibitions and programs that promote the values of vision, creativity and entrepreneurship."

This is the second hit Motown has taken in a week following the death Tuesday of legendary Ashford & Simpson songwriter, Nick Ashford.

Read Berry Gordy's full statement:

Today our family mourns the loss of our beloved Esther Gordy Edwards.

Esther Gordy Edwards was a top Motown executive, businesswoman, civil and political leader, who received numerous awards, commendations and accolades. She was the most educated in our family and was the go-to person for wisdom in business.

Whatever she did, it was with the highest standards, professionalism and an attention to detail that was legendary. She always came out a hero. Esther wasn't concerned with being popular. She was dedicated to making us all better-the Gordy family and the Motown family.

Esther turned the so-called trash left behind after I sold the company in 1988 into a phenomenal world-class monument where Hitsville started-The Motown Museum.

She preserved Motown memorabilia before it was memorabilia, collecting our history long before we knew we were making it. She nurtured and held it together through the years, protecting the Motown legacy for generations to come-which is only one of the reasons people all over the world will remember and celebrate Esther Gordy Edwards.

Despite my sorrow, I will proudly continue to honor and celebrate her. She will always be my big sister and she will forever live in my heart.

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