Interview: Karla Gordy Bristol's Labor of Love: MOTOWN: CELEBRATING THE MUSIC, THE MAGIC, THE LOVE

Karla Gordy Bristol will present Motown: Celebrating The Music, The Magic, The Love  October 1st

By: Sep. 27, 2022

Interview: Karla Gordy Bristol's Labor of Love: MOTOWN: CELEBRATING THE MUSIC, THE MAGIC, THE LOVE

A descendant of Motown royalty, Karla Gordy Bristol will present Motown: Celebrating The Music, The Magic, The Love October 1, 2022. This world premiere, created, produced and directed by Karla, will feature a panel and show that includes: Shelly Berger, Janie Bradford, Duke Fakir, William Goldstein, Iris Gordy, Brian Holland, Brenda Holloway, Thelma Houston, Miller London, Scherrie, Lynda & Susaye (Former Ladies of The Supremes), Martha Reeves, Paul Riser, Claudette Robinson, Smokey Robinson and Otis Williams. Pat Harvey acts as master of ceremonies, with Shadoe Stevens announcing and Patrice Rushen as panel moderator. Karla managed to carve out some time to answer a few of my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Karla!

How long has the gestation period for this show been?

I initially had thoughts of doing a Motown panel and performance show about twelve years ago. My concept has evolved over the years, as I decided how I wanted to present it. Doing this show at The Wallis began with a brief face-to-face conversation with the lovely Wallis Annenberg in 2018. We had an April 2019 date scheduled, which was pushed to be placed on a later season, then the Pandemic hit, and here we are now!

Was it an easy choice to go with The Wallis as your venue?

There are many excellent venues in Los Angeles County, but The Wallis holds special meaning to me. Living in Beverly Hills, I'm very familiar with The Wallis. I grew up going to the building when it was a post office. After executive producing a documentary series for the City of Beverly Hills 2014, including one on The Wallis, I became more familiar with its transition process into a world class theatre. We featured The Wallis' architect, Zoltan Pali, who became emotional during parts of our interview and tour. I appreciate the details and feel closer to the venue, so producing a show in my home city in a historical venue for my world premiere seemed like a perfect choice. I knew I wanted to launch the show in Beverly Hills, as I wanted to bring joy and love to my community.

With the subject Motown, did you have to fight participants off with a bat?

That's every producer's dream. Our show topic is no stranger to the world, so we are grateful for the very positive responses to my calls to participate. I did receive many requests to participate in our show. I wish we could include them all.

How did you ultimately whittle down your choices to your current list of entertainers and speakers?

I sought to create a balance, through my knowledge, experience and vision on Motown and this show. I believe I have confirmed a well-rounded group. The stories and the music are the focus, presented by the Motown family and talented performers. Unsung members of the story have made great contributions, so I take all areas into consideration, as long as an interesting real Motown story is told.

Was there much juggling of time for you to produce this show with your newly-appointed position as Commissioner of Arts and Culture for the City of Beverly Hills last August?

Multi-tasking is all I've known. I've been an event producer for over 25 years and became a city commissioner in July 2021. I prepared myself to take on city responsibilities and balance my own projects. With both, I'm blessed to do what I love, arts and culture projects, which bring joy and happiness to people. Motown: Celebrating the Magic, the Music, the Love is my longtime dream to develop and produce, so this has been a refreshing balance.

What responsibilities did your mother Iris Gordy have at Motown Records?

My amazing mother, Iris Gordy, began working at Motown when it was Hitsville U.S.A. in Detroit, Michigan in the early years. She began as a department clerk, then music evaluator in the renowned Quality Control Department, where our uncle Berry told her she had a "great ear" for music. Moving to Beverly Hills, as a music evaluator, she became a department head, record producer, and later Vice President of Creative. All at a time when there were few women in key corporate positions. I spent my upbringing around music creativity and hitmaking legends, not realizing it at the time. My Mom was a force to watch in a recording studio!

Can you name a few of the artists she was responsible for?

Rick James, Teena Marie and DeBarge, as well as producing album projects on DeBarge, Smokey Robinson, The Temptations and others. As a vice president, my mother was always helping others and often didn't accept her much due producer's credit on her album projects. She was known to encourage artists to do more than just write and sing, but to produce their work, as well, while she was still producing them. She's the ultimate music director!

How old were you when you first realized that some of the people in your living room were famous recording stars?

Growing up, I knew they were popular, but didn't see that as being famous. I viewed it as my family was working doing what they do, hanging out together and such, which was completely normal to me. It was probably around tenth grade at Beverly Hills High School, when my friends would join me at music industry concerts, televisions shows, events, and house parties, where they would express major excitement, which I found strange. I would wonder why they were so excited to take a photo with my uncle Smokey and others. The more people who would react this way, and the increased frequency, caused me to think about the why. I began to pay attention a bit at my friend's reactions and that of others around us. I was very quiet and observant. A normal Gordy family party would have my family, Uncle Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross and her daughters, Stevie Wonder, Uncle Smokey and Aunt Claudette Robinson and kids, The Temptations, Jayne Kennedy, many other artists, Motown writers, producers, actors, Motown staff and more all eating, playing at the pool table, swimming, enjoying themselves, playing cards and definitely singing and enjoying music... a normal fun house party for me.

Who was the first Motown artist you met?

I have no idea, as I was born into the Motown story; they actually met and came to know me first! My Dad, Johnny Bristol, was the first Motown producer/writer I met! LOL Hit music had been flying out of Hitsville U.S.A. by the time I arrived.

Would you share a memorable incident with a Motown artist?

What comes to mind immediately is when I was at my Uncle Berry's house for the Motown 25 post-party, and I reached to open the bathroom door, but before I reached the door, Michael Jackson came out at the exact same time. Embarrassed by the location and timing, I walked away, and he said, "Karla, you're not going to say hello? Come give me a hug". I went over and hugged him, and we chatted outside the bathroom. Then I felt bad, because I typically would initially greet him with a hug. We had been told not to bother him that evening, and I ended up in that moment! Michael was always so kind and fun. Though we knew each other, that was an awkward and memorable moment! I miss talking with him and his great hugs.

Your event is already sold out. Do you have any plans to put on this show again in the near future?

My primary focus is producing a fantastic world premiere show this Saturday, October 1, 2022 at The Wallis. I'm grateful to Sony Music Publishing and The Berry Gordy Foundation For Truth & Justice for their support. I always viewed my idea as a multi-location show and have planned as such. Once we confirm tour sponsors and/or investors, we shall continue this important and enjoyable show at other locations. My parents, grandparents, great aunts, great uncles, great grandparents and great grandmother were a part of making this legendary story. I lived a part of this story, along with my family, and it's a joy to share it with the world. The world can unite through the Motown sound and story. I'll do my part carrying on my family's legacy.

Thank you again, Karla! Look forward to experiencing your Motown!

To be placed on the wait list for this sold-out one-nighter October 1, 2022; click on the button below: