Al Abrams, Motown Records’ 1st Press Officer, Dies At 74

Al Abrams, the founding press officer and publicist for Motown Records, died Saturday following a battle with cancer, his wife said. He was 74.

Born in Detroit, Al Abrams was the first employee of Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. – before the company officially existed. Abrams promoted records to Detroit disc jockeys and went on to direct media relations at the label that included Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, the Miracles and the Supremes.

Photo: Nancy Abrams via AP
The founding press officer and publicist for Motown Records in an undated photograph.

“His greatest accomplishment at Motown was actually starting at the age of 18,” his wife, Nancy Abrams, told The Associated Press. “It kind of snowballed. He knew what he wanted to do with his life at that point.”

She said her husband died at his home in Findlay, Ohio.

Abrams came up with Motown’s slogan, “The Sound of Young America,” because “he wanted to push diversity” and was “colorblind,” Nancy Abrams said.

She said her husband put that philosophy into practice during a 1960s Motown tour through the southern U.S. She said Smokey Robinson came to visit him in a hotel, where blacks weren’t allowed to stay.

The hotel manager was tipped off, came to Abrams’ door and asked if a black person was in his room. Nancy Abrams said her husband replied that it wasn’t a black person, “This is Smokey Robinson,” and both were kicked 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.”

Singer Martha Reeves told the Detroit Free Press that Abrams worked as a “partner” to Gordy. She added he “broke down a lot of doors” and got her and other Motown artists “through the doors that were always shut to us.”

Abrams left Motown in 1967 to launch a public relations firm with clients such as Stax Records and James Brown.

“He wanted to show that what he did at Motown he could keep doing, and make other people … and other record labels just as famous,” Nancy Abrams said.

He also was a journalist and author and co-wrote a musical, “Memories of Motown,” and has a book coming out next year.

In addition to his wife, Abrams is survived by a daughter and two grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held Thursday at The Dorfman Chapel in the Detroit suburb of Farmington Hills.