The company has taken a 50 per cent stake in the Jobete companies - Jobete Music Co and Stone Diamond Music Corporation - owned by the founder of Motown Records, Berry Gordy. Sir Colin Southgate, EMI's chairman, said yesterday it was likely EMI would buy the remainder of the Jobete companies in the future.
He added that EMI had, through protracted negotiations, gained control of "the greatest private catalogue". Sir Colin said EMI had "been to the altar three times with Berry, but this is the first time we've got married".
The Jobete catalogue includes Motown classics sung by artists such as Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, the Jackson Five, Lionel Richie and Smokey Robinson. Through the deal, which was funded entirely in cash, EMI has bought the copyright to songs such as Baby Love, Ain't No Mountain High Enough and Reach Out I'll Be There.
Sir Colin said he was confident EMI's full ownership of Mr Gordy's catalogue would not be "decades away". It is thought EMI would take control of the Jobete companies on Mr Gordy's retirement, if not before. Mr Gordy, who will remain chairman of the business, is 67.
Day-to-day operation of the catalogue will be handled by Martin Bandier, chief executive of EMI Music Publishing.
EMI already had a marketing agreement with Mr Gordy outside North America, which will be extended throughout the world as a result of yesterday's acquisition.
City analysts were impressed with the deal. One said the price paid was "not unreasonable" and added: "Consolidation in music publishing is a good idea. Music publishing is a very profitable business." Another said EMI would "do very well" by including the songs in compilations. EMI Music Publishing already owns the copyright to more than 1 million songs, including those by Jamiroquai, M People, and the Prodigy.
Unaudited accounts show that, at 31 December 1995, the Jobete companies had net assets of $45.2m and reported pre-tax profits of $6.7m. The two companies are owned by Mr Gordy and his sister Esther Edwards and was the largest remaining independently owned catalogue. Jobete Music was founded in 1959, and became the music publishing arm of Motown Records.