​Al Abrams: Motown's first press officer who helped make stars of musicians like Wonder, Gaye and the Supremes

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The Independent Online

Al Abrams, who has died of cancer, was the founding press officer and publicist for Motown Records. Born in Detroit, home of the label, he was the first person to be hired by founder Berry Gordy Jnr, before the company officially existed. He promoted records to Detroit disc jockeys and went on to direct media relations at the label, handling stars like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles and the Supremes. 

“His greatest accomplishment at Motown was actually starting at the age of 18,” his wife, Nancy, said. “It kind of snowballed. He knew what he wanted to do with his life at that point.” Abrams came up with Motown's slogan, “The Sound of Young America”, because “he wanted to push diversity” and was “colour blind.”

Abrams put that philosophy into practice during a 1960s Motown tour through the southern states of the US. When Smokey Robinson came to visit him in a hotel that was barred to black people, the manager had been tipped off. He knocked on Abrams' door and asked if a black person was in his room. Abrams replied that it wasn't a black person: “This is Smokey Robinson.” They were both thrown out. “Al went back with Smokey and stayed in the black boarding house,” Nancy Abrams recalled. “After that, he never stayed in a hotel again.” 

Martha Reeves said Abrams “broke down a lot of doors,” and got her and other Motown artists “through the doors that were always shut to us.” He left Motown in 1967 to launch a PR firm with clients such as Stax Records and James Brown. He also co-wrote a musical, Memories of Motown, and has a book coming out next year.

Al Abrams, publicist: born Detroit February 1941; married Nancy (one daughter); died Findlay Ohio 3 October 2015

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