The Johnnie Mae Matthews Story
In Motown's Shadow

The majestic Graystone Ballroom opened in 1922 and could accommodate 3,000 people. This bluesy 1962 gig featured Johnnie Mae singing her hit, while Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights Big City" had climbed Billboard '61. John Lee's great 1962 Vee-Jay disc - "Boom Boom"- was recorded at United Sound in Detroit

Everything may have turned quite out differently if she's been able to agree an equitable deal with record promoter par excellence, Barney Ales; the man who Berry Gordy acknowledges as being a major contributor to the success of Motown.

Johnnie Mae Matthews
"My Little Angel"

Johnnie Mae recalled how it unfolded, "Barney - he was supposed to be my partner. When I went down to Record Row on Woodward Avenue to the distributors - he and I would go out and have lunch. He tried to come into partnership with me, before Motown. But I couldn't see it because I built up my company. I couldn't see a person just coming in who didn't have anything to put into the company - just freeload. We couldn't see eye to eye."

In the late 50s she used to drive Berry around town before he had a car, introducing him to all the jocks. She also helped him to get a deal with Chess Records, who released "Bad Girl" by The Miracles in '59. "I'm the one took Berry Gordy's record to Chicago, I knew them (the Chess brothers) from coming in and out of Chicago."

Apparently Berry didn't forget the favors because when Johnnie Mae needed help, she didn't have to ask. "When I had an accident on the road in Delaware in '62 - he sent flowers to my bed everyday. And when I got back into Detroit he also gave me X amount of cash."

Notes thanks to Graham Finch

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