Barrett Strong, Motown icon and ‘Money’ singer dies at 81

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NEW YORK (AP) — Barrett Strong, one of Motown’s founding artists and best known for singing lead on the company’s groundbreaking single “Money (That’s What I Want)” and later collaborating with Norman Whitfield on classics like “I Heard It Through” The gifted composers of ‘the Grapevine’, ‘War’ and ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ are dead. He was 81 years old.

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The Motown Museum announced his death on social media on Sunday, but did not immediately release further details.

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Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement, “Barrett is not only a great singer and pianist, he has created some amazing work with his songwriting partner, Norman Whitfield.”

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Strong was not yet 20 when his friend Gordy agreed to manage him and release his music in the early days of building a recording empire in Detroit. Within a year, he had become part of history as a pianist and vocalist on “Money,” a million-seller and Motown’s first major hit, released in the early 1960s. Strong never again approached the success of “Money” on his own, fighting decades later to admit he helped write it. With Whitfield, however, he assembled a productive and eclectic songwriting team.

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While Gordy’s “Sound of Young America” ​​was criticized for being too slick and repetitive, the Whitfield-Strong team released “I Wish It Would Rain” and “Just My Imagination (Run Away With Me).” With “I Heard it Through the Grapevine,” they provided a fast-tempo call-and-response hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips and a dark, hypnotic ballad for Marvin Gaye, his 1968 version of one of Motown’s all-time bestsellers.

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As Motown became more politically conscious later in the decade, Barrett-Whitfield recorded “Cloud Nine” and “Psychedelic Shack” for the Temptations and the protest anthem “War” for Edwin Starr and the widely cited refrain “War! What on?” Is it good? Absolutely… nothing!”

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“I had a cousin who was a paratrooper in ‘War’ and was badly injured in Vietnam,” Strong told LA Weekly in 1999. He was hit by shrapnel and crippled for life. When he sits at home he talks about these things with his family and inspires them to talk about it.”

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Whitfield-Strong’s other hits, primarily for the Temptations, include “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “That’s the Way Love Is,” and the Grammy Award-winning chart-topper “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” (sometimes referred to as “Dad It was a rolling stone”) from the Rolling Stones (“Just My Imagination”), Aretha Franklin (“I Wish It Would Rain”) to Bruce Springsteen (“War”), Al Green (“I Can’t Get Next to You”) Artists who have covered their songs until ).

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Strong spent part of the 1960s recording for other labels and left Motown again in the early 1970s to make a handful of solo albums, including “Stronghold” and “Love is You”. In 2004 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, where he was named “a pivotal figure in the formative years of Motown”.

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Whitfield died in 2008.

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Music by Strong and other Motown writers was later included in the Broadway hit “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations”.

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Strong was born in West Point, Mississippi, and moved to Detroit a few years later. He was self-taught on the piano and formed a local gospel group, the Strong Singers, with his sisters. As a teenager, he became acquainted with artists such as Franklin, Smokey Robinson, and Gordy, and was impressed with his writing and piano playing. “Money” will ironically lead to a battle over money, with the slogan “The best things in life are free/But you can give them to birds and bees”.

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Strong initially made a name for himself among the writers, and he often spoke of coming up with a pounding piano riff while jamming Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say” in the studio. However, only a few decades later he found out that Motown had removed his name from the credits and that he had to pay royalties on popular standards covered by the Beatles, Rolling Stones and many others, as well as memorabilia on a jukebox in John Lennon’s house. I found out. Strong’s legal claim was weakened because he took so long to seek the reinstatement of his name. (Gordy is one of the song’s prominent writers, and his lawyers argued that Strong’s name appeared due to a clerical error).

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“Songs outlive people,” Strong told The New York Times in 2013. “The real reason Motown worked was publishing. Records were just a means of getting songs to the public. The real money is in publishing, and if you have publishing, hold on to it. That’s all. If you give it up, you lose your life.” and legacy. When you leave, those songs will continue to play.”

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