Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MA in Women's History


Women’s History Graduate Program


Esther Gordy Edwards was called the “First Woman of Motown Records.” She was a thirty-year music executive veteran of Motown Records’ label. Edwards was a woman of many capabilities. She served as a mentor, personal manager of artists, Senior Vice President, Corporate Secretary and International Director. Motown Records was founded in 1959, with a loan from a family fund she established. The Motown Museum and her work as the “keeper of culture” helped to seal the Motown Record label into the world’s historical consciousness. Edwards was a true renaissance woman. She established herself as a business owner, historian, civic leader, political leader and philanthropist. Edwards received numerous awards, commendations and accolades for her work. Even so, the “great man” narrative has been used consistently within the existing history of Motown Records. Berry Gordy is presented as establishing the label alone; a narrative which has stood the test of time, while simultaneously erasing Edwards from historical memory. This narrative has minimized the influence of women, such as that of Esther Gordy Edwards. Her contribution to the building of Motown Records has been understudied and overlooked. In this scholarship, I will use a historical lens to showcase the contributions of Esther Gordy Edwards and present some of the challenges in unearthing this long overdue narrative of a woman whose work helped to solidify the musical legacy of Motown Records.