Hundreds packed a Detroit church Wednesday to give a final goodbye to Esther Gordy Edwards, the sister of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr. who helped him build the musical empire and led efforts to preserve the original headquarters in the city.
Edwards died last week at age 91.
Berry Gordy clasped hands with Smokey Robinson as they entered the Bethel AME Church. Stevie Wonder, who also signed to Motown, spoke before performing a stirring, soulful rendition of one of Edwards' favorite hymns, "His Eye is on the Sparrow." He said he was "giving all the praise to God for what she did in my life and the many lives she touched."
"I think if we all had a mother or sister or aunt or cousin or sister or niece that celebrated and cheered our family as much as she did hers, we'd have a world of unity," said Wonder, who also played the original "Sweetest Somebody I Know" that he said is "so much about her."
"I am just thanking God that in my lifetime I knew her," he said.
Edwards had many executive roles with the company her brother founded in 1959, including managing the guiding the artists' careers and exposing the famed "Motown sound" to international audiences as director of international operations.
Still, her lasting contribution to the company came after Motown and most of her family left Detroit for the California in the early 1970s. She amassed what would become valuable memorabilia and set to work on preserving the old headquarters that included the label's famed Studio A. The large, stately former house on West Grand Boulevard opened as a museum in 1985.
Robinson said Edwards was the only one in the company's early days who knew Motown was "going to make history," so she took pictures and saved "every little scrap of paper, every tape."
"Fortunately, there was Esther, who had our backs," said Robinson, who introduced himself to the audience as "Smokey Gordy Robinson."
"Now we have a pictorial and an itemized history of our legacy, right there on West Grand Boulevard," he said.