Barrett Strong, a significant figure in Motown Records' history, passed away at the age of 81.
He co-wrote timeless songs like I Heard It Through the Grapevine, War, and Papa Was a Rollin' Stone after singing the label's first big hit, Money (That's What I Want), in 1959.
According to Berry Gordy, the man who founded Motown, those songs were "revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times.".
There is no information on what caused the death.
"Barrett has imprinted himself forever. founder of the Temptations, Otis Williams, said in a statement. "Our Motown family has lost a cherished brother and exceptional songwriter. ".
In addition to being a superb pianist and singer, Barrett also co-wrote a remarkable body of work with Norman Whitfield.
"Barrett was a founding member of the Motown Family, and he will be missed by all of us. ".
Strong was born in Mississippi and raised in Detroit, where he performed in the gospel group The Strong Sisters with his four sisters on piano and sang.
They made friends with soul music icons like Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson while visiting local churches.
When all the singers would come to town, all the guys would stop by my house because my sisters were such attractive young women, he later recalled. I would play the piano while we jammed. ".
He was only 18 years old when he consented to let Gordy manage him and distribute his music.
Within a year, he had the million-selling single Money, which The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and the Flying Lizards later covered.
Strong claimed that the song's catchy piano riff was the result of an impromptu recording session he had at Motown's Hitsville headquarters.
He stated to the New York Times in 2013: "I was just sitting there playing the piano.". "The groove began as I was playing the Ray Charles song What'd I Say.
Everyone reacted by asking, "What was that?" he recalled. We had a song as a result of their request to write some lyrics. ".
With its first refrain, The best things in life are free; however, you can give them to the bees and birds. Money was a smash from the start, reaching number two on the US Randamp;B chart and number 23 on the Hot 100.
The success gave Gordy the money he needed to expand his business, and Motown went on to revolutionize US music while eradicating racial barriers.
After the label took his name out of the credits and refused to give him his due royalties, Strong fought the company for years. Gordy asserted that he was the song's author and that Barrett's crediting him was a "clerical error".
Strong's one and only vocal hit, Money, remained on the radio for more than 60 years.
Later, he claimed he was content to withdraw in the background.
The father of six admitted to Billboard magazine, "I never felt at ease with myself as a recording artist.
For the sake of my family, I had to work. I don't want the limelight, the glitz, or anything like that. Simply working in my studio is how I prefer to spend my time. ".
He collaborated with producer Norman Whitfield in the Motown studios, and the two of them wrote some of the label's most cherished singles, including Ball of Confusion, Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), I Wish It Would Rain, and Wherever I Lay My Hat (That's My Home).
Their songs frequently had political activism as their inspiration. Strong's cousin, a paratrooper who suffered severe injuries in Vietnam, for instance, served as the inspiration for Edwin Starr's War.
I Heard It Through the Grapevine, meanwhile, got its name from the American Civil War, when slaves used the "grapevine telegraph" as a means of communication.
Strong took the phrase to Whitfield after hearing it on Chicago's streets. Together, they transformed it into a song about an epic romantic betrayal.
It was originally recorded by Smokey Robinson's Miracles in 1966, but Gordy chose not to release it. A year later, Marvin Gaye recorded his own version, which was also rejected.
Gladys Knight came along, that's when.
Gaye's ominous, hypnotic reading of the song was buried as an album track until E Rodney Jones, a DJ at Chicago's WVON radio station, put it on air. Their version of the song peaked at number two in 1967.
Jones reported that "the phones lit up" after the song's initial airing to Motown marketing executive Phil Jones. It became Motown's best-selling single and was released 11 months after the Pips' version.
In retrospect, Strong recalled, "They didn't think it was a hit record.". They say, "We don't like that," but when it becomes popular, everyone takes the credit.