Motown exec Barney Ales, passes away at 85


Motown founder Berry Gordy with label sales exec Barney Ales. Credit: Billboard/ Motown Archives

DETROIT, Mich. (WLNS) – Barney Ales, a salesman who helped turn Motown Records into a powerhouse, died of natural causes on Friday, his family said.

Ales passed away at his Malibu, California home at the age of 85, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press.

Ales was a pivotal figure at the label, overseeing Motown’s sales division in the 1960s. He later served three years as company president.

He grew up in northwest Detroit, the son of a Sicilian-native father and a mother from northern Michigan. Having started as a stock boy with Capitol Records, he eventually rose to manage the company’s Detroit branch. He was running his own record-distribution firm in 1961 when he was tapped by Berry Gordy Jr. to head up sales and promotion for the fledgling Motown.

“I just thought Barney was the greatest salesperson in the world, and he had like the United Nations in his sales department,” Gordy said. “When he came in, he said he would build me a great team. I wanted to sell music to all people: whites, blacks, Jews, gentiles, the cops and the robbers.”

Assembling a diverse staff of Detroit music-biz veterans, Ales helped make Motown a mainstream hit.

His efforts helped Motown’s artists such as the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and Smokey Robinson become some of the biggest pop stars of the era.

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