Esther Gordy Edwards was an integral part of the Motown Record Company founded by her brother, Berry Gordy. She has served in a variety of positions in the Motown Record Company and founded the Motown Museum, thus preserving an important part of Detroit's history. In addition to her role within the record company, she took part in numerous community and business organizations.
Esther Edwards was born on April 25, 1920 in Oconee, Georgia and moved to Detroit with her family when she was a child. She graduated from Cass Technical High School and continued her education at Howard University and the University of Michigan. In 1951 she married Michigan State Representative George Edwards. In 1947 she and her brothers, Fuller and George, founded the Gordy Printing Company. She remained with the printing company until 1959. In 1960 Edwards became the chairman of the Recorder Court Jury Commission and went to work part-time for her brother Berry's new company, Motown Records. In 1962 she went to work for the record company full-time. Over the years she has filled a variety of positions. In the early years she helped with the company accounting. She then became the director of the Artists Personal Management Division, charged with helping the singers polish their public image, both on and off stage. In this position she traveled with many of the acts to make certain that the singers upheld the proper image as prescribed by the company and took care of the artists, many of whom were teenagers. She eventually rose through the company ranks to become senior vice president and corporate secretary. In her latest role she was manager of Motown Records overseas activities. When Motown Records moved to Los Angeles in 1972, Edwards stayed in Detroit, worked in the company and ran the Gordy Foundation, which provides scholarships for Detroit's youth.
Over the years Edwards packed away boxes of Motown memorabilia. In 1985 she founded the Motown Museum, using her memorabilia as the core of the museum's collection. The museum, housed in the house where Motown began, found going difficult in its early years, but Edwards persevered and made the museum an important Detroit historical site. Edwards has been involved in numerous other cultural and business organizations. She was the first woman elected to the board of directors of the Detroit Bank of the Commonwealth and in 1973 became the first woman elected to the board of the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce. In 1970 she became the only woman on the Central Business District Association board of directors. Her other business activities included a term as vice president of the Metropolitan Detroit Convention and Visitors Bureau and a stint on the executive board of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation. Edwards has given much of her time to organizations promoting the arts in Detroit. She has served as a trustee for the Interlochen Center for the Arts and on the board of directors of the Detroit Music Hall. In 1976 Edwards founded the African-American Heritage Association and from 1988 to 1995 she served on the Michigan Historical Commission.
Edwards efforts as a business leader and preserver of Detroit history have been recognized by several awards and honors, including the Detroit Urban League's "Distinguished Warrior" Award and in 1971 the Detroit News named her one of Detroit's ten "Big Wheels."