Motown Pioneer of Jamaican Heritage to Be Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Suzanne de Passe, legendary Motown executive and producer who is of Jamaican descent, will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (RRHOF) during its 39th annual awards ceremony on October 19, 2024, in Cleveland, Ohio. De Passe will receive the Ahmet Ertegun Award for Lifetime Achievement. De Passe is well known for her involvement with the iconic Jackson 5 group in its early years, as well as for her long career in film and television with the founder of Motown, Berry Gordy. Her 2024 award will make De Passe the fifth woman to receive the RRHOF industry award since its establishment in 1986 and only the second to win it solo.

Reaction to RRHOF award announcement

De Passe shared with an interviewer from the Detroit Free Press that she had received an advance announcement of her pending RRHOF award. She added that she “burst into tears” when she heard the news. Her colleague and mentor, Berry Gordy of Motown, received the same award in 1988 and congratulated De Passe on the honor. He described her as his “protégé and longtime friend” and said she had always exceeded his expectations in every task he assigned to her as his creative assistant. He noted how she helped to launch the careers of Michael Jackson, the Jackson 5, Lionel Richie, the Commodores, and others. He also noted her co-writing of the screenplay for the Oscar-nominated film, “Lady Sings the Blues.”


Suzanna Celeste de Passe was born in New York City in 1946. Her mother was of Jamaican descent, and her father had Haitian and French heritage. She attended New Lincoln School and graduated from Syracuse University. Her show business career began at the Cheetah nightclub in New York, and via her friendship with Cindy Birdsong, a member of The Supremes, she began work for Motown founder Berry Gordy. One of her first tasks was to develop the act and wardrobe of The Jackson 5, and she was also instrumental in bringing the Motown label to television audiences with several special productions, including ”Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,” which was produced during her tenure as president of Motown Productions. After the sale of Motown, she joined Gordy in Gordy/de Passe Productions and established De Passe Entertainment in 1992.

Cites Gordy and Motown for her success

Her experience with Motown also resulted in a television career, where she led projects that included “Lonesome Dover and “The Temptations” miniseries. She described her Motown years as allowing her to do things “ punching above my weight.” De Passe noted that Gordy had given her “the opportunity of a lifetime” and that he recognized something in her that she couldn’t see for herself. She also described Motown as a place in which women were allowed to lead in an industry dominated by men. She thinks this is because Gordy was raised by a “strong mother and four sisters,” so he had an appreciation for what women could do.

Professional honors and experience

Suzanne de Passe has been the subject of two case studies at the Harvard Business School and lectured there several times. She was the 2002 Time Warner Visiting Professor in the Department of Radio, Television and Film at Howard University’s John H. Johnson School of Communications, holding that position for three years. During that time, she was presented with an honorary doctorate. She was the Emerson College Balfour Distinguished Lecturer in 2007, and from 2002 to 2008, was executive producer of “Showtime at the Apollo.” She was the co-creator, writer, and executive producer of the 2005 and 2006 Black Movie Awards on the TNT television network.

Photo – Deposit Photos