Barrett Strong, one of the original hitmakers and songwriters behind Motown Records’ “Money (That’s What I Want)” and other soul classics, has died at the age of 81.
Strong was perhaps due to his collaborations with fellow Motown hitmaker Norman Whitfield, including Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and Edwin Starr’s “War”, along with several songs by the Temptations, “Just My Imagination (Running”. Away With Me)” and “Cloud Nine”, among many others.
News of Strong’s death was confirmed by the Motown Museum on Twitter early Sunday afternoon.
Motown founder Berry Gordy issued the following statement: “I am saddened to learn of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my first artists, and the man who sang my first big hit in 1959.
“Barrett was not a great singer and pianist, but he, along with co-writer Norman Whitfield, created an incredible body of work, especially with Temptations. Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the time like “Cloud Nine” and the still relevant “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today)”. My heartfelt condolences to his family and friends. Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us.”
Strong was a key figure in music in the late ’60s and early ’70s, scoring major hits as a singer and songwriter during the formative years of Motown. Gordy was among the label’s first signings, producing their first hit, 1959’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” Tamla was originally written on Gordy’s first label by Motown co-founder and his then-secretary, Janie Bradford.
A number of popular bands such as the Beatles (1963), Flying Lizards (1979) and the Rolling Stones (1964) received the money, to name a few.
The same year Money, Strong released the little-distributed “Let’s Rock” featuring Tamla. From that point on, he became one of Motown’s most successful songwriters in partnership with Norman Whitfield.
The pair were critical in the label’s shift from orchestral soul to a mix of rhythmic funk and rock. Strong won a Grammy for best rhythm and blues song in 1973 for the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”
By 1972, Strong had left Motown after the label moved to the West Coast. Instead, he pursued a solo career, starting with a couple of albums on Capitol Records and Epic Records. On Capitol, he released the 1975 LP “Stronghold,” which had some success with the standout single “Is It True.”
Strong had sporadic releases throughout the early ’80s and beyond, although he continued to write for other artists such as the Dells. In 2004, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2008, he recorded a follow-up to his “Stronghold” album, aptly titled “Stronghold II.”