Barrett Strong, Motown Singer-Songwriter, Dies at 81

    Barret Strong, the Motown artist who sang the label’s breakthrough hit ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and wrote songs for the Temptations, has died. He was 81.

    “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my earliest artists, and the man who sang my first big hit,” Gordy wrote in a statement shared by Billboard. “Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitefield, created an incredible body of work, primarily with the Temptations. Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times like ‘Cloud Nine’ and the still relevant, ‘Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).’”

    Born in West Point, Mississippi in 1941, Strong grew up in Detroit, where he became one of Gordy’s earliest signees. He was the piano player and vocalist for ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, which was released early in 1960 and reached No. 2 on the U.S. R&B chart. It went on sell more than one million copies and was later covered by acts including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, and Jerry Lee Lewis, Flying Lizards, the Kingsmen, and Buddy Guy.

    In the mid-1960s, Strong collaborated with producer Norman Whitfield to form one of Motown’s most successful songwriting partnerships, turning out hits such as  Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, Edwin Starr’s ‘War’, and Paul Young’s ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’. For the Temptations, the duo wrote hits like ‘Psychedelic Shack’, ‘Cloud Nine’ and ‘Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today)’, as well as ‘Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)’, which hit No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971. In 1973, ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ earned Strong a Grammy for Best R&B Song.

    Strong left Motown in 1972 after the label had moved to Los Angeles. He focused on his solo career and signed with Epic and later Capitol, where he released 1975’s Stronghold and 1976’s Live & Love. Strong was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis is a writer, journalist, and music editor at Our Culture. His work has also appeared in Pitchfork, GIGsoup, and other publications. He currently lives in Athens, Greece.

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