Legendary Motown songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield dies at 68

 

Soul legend Norman Whitfield – writer and producer of classic Motown songs such as ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ and ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’ – has died at the age of 68 after a lengthy battle with diabetes.


He was one of Motown’s most successful and influential songwriters and producers and wrote some of soul music’s greatest hits for acts like The Temptations and Marvin Gaye.

 

In a statement, Motown great Smokey Robinson hailed Whitfield as “one of the most prolific songwriters and record producers of our time. He will live forever through his great music.”

 

Born in New York’s Harlem district, Whitfield started his songwriting career in the early 1960s after his family moved to Detroit. The ambitious 19-year-old began hanging around Berry Gordy’s Hitsville USA offices until he was eventually given a chance to work for the growing Motown label in 1962.

 

After joining the label’s production team, Whitfield went on to become one of the driving forces of the Motown sound. He took over from Smokey Robinson as The Temptations’ record producer and, over the following decade, worked with virtually every major artist on the label – including Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, the Four Tops, Gladys Knight and The Pips, and many others.


Often teaming up with lyricist Barrett Strong, he co-wrote and produced classic Motown hits like ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’,
‘I Can’t Get Next to You’, ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Ball of Confusion’, ‘Just My Imagination’, the Edwin Starr hit ‘War’, and, in 1972, the Grammy-winning ‘Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone’.

 

Whitfield also helped to pioneer and popularise the late-1960s sub-genre of psychedelic soul.

 

He left Motown in 1973 to form his own record label and enjoyed success with disco soul band Rose Royce – winning his second Grammy in 1976 for Best Original TV or Motion Picture Score for the movie Car Wash.

 

Whitfield returned to Motown in the early 1980s to produce the Temptations’ Sail Away album.

 

Sadly, he spent much of the last 20 years of his life battling health and legal problems – although one of the highlights of his later years was his induction into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2004.

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