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30 January 2023

Barrett Strong, ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’ Writer, Dies Aged 81

Barrett Strong
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Barrett Strong, the writer of some of Motown Records’ best-loved songs has died aged 81. Strong is perhaps best known for his collaborations with Norman Whitfield, which include Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine, and Edwin Starr’s War, along The Temptations’ Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me) and Cloud Nine, among many others.

News of Strong’s death was confirmed early Sunday afternoon by the Motown Museum on Twitter.

Motown founder Berry Gordy issued the following statement: “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 “Money (That’s What I Want)” in 1959. Barrett was not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitfield, 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).’ My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends. Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us.”

Strong was among Berry Gordy’s first signings to Notown, and performed their first hit, 1959’s Money (That’s What I Want). The track, which was originally released on Tamla, Gordy’s first label, was written by the Motown founder and his then-secretary, Janie Bradford.

Strong went on to become one of Motown’s most successful songwriters in partnership with Norman Whitfield. And with a string of singles for The Temptations – Psychedelic Shack, I Can’t Get Next To You, Ball Of Confusion, Papa Was A Rolling Stone – were instrumental in the label’s evolution from orchestral pop-soul to a more mature, psychedelic funk-rock sound.

By 1972, Strong had left Motown after the label had moved to the West Coast. He released the 1975 solo LP, Stronghold, which achieved some success with standout single Is It True, and the following year’s Live & Love.

Strong continued into the 80s, recording Rock It Easy for an independent label and writing and arranging You Can Depend on Me which was included on The Dells’ The Second Time LP in 1988.

In 2004, he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and in 2008, he recorded Stronghold II.

“You don’t quit. You just slow down,” Strong said in 2016. “You take your time more. But you have to keep up, too, and relate to the younger people now. I don’t want to be left behind.”

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