BREAKING: Motown’s breakthrough hitmaker and co-writer of countless classic songs passes away aged 81

BREAKING: Motown's breakthrough hitmaker and co-writer of countless classic songs passes away aged 81

Motown's breakthrough hitmaker and co-writer of countless classic songs passes away aged 81

Barrett Strong, Motown’s first-ever hitmaker with ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ and co-writer of a mountain of classic songs passed away at the age of 81.

Barrett Strong, the artist who gave Motown its breakthrough hit song in 1960 with ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’, passed away today Monday, January 30, aged 81. His death was confirmed by the Motown Museum on Twitter, although no cause of death was revealed.

A statement from Berry Gordy, the founder of the legendary Detroit label, Tamla Motown, read: “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”.

Barrett’s hit was subsequently covered by both The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. With Norman Whitfield – who died in 2008 – he went on to co-write some of the record label’s most famous songs. In 2004, Strong was described as ‘a pivotal figure in Motown’s formative years’ when he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall Of Fame.

Among the classics composed by the two geniuses and recorded by major artists are ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine’. The original 1966 release by Gladys Knight And The Pips achieved moderate success but when Marvin Gaye covered it two years later, it went on to become one of Motown’s biggest hits of all time.

The eclectic Barrett-Whitfield partnership was responsible for a multitude of hits like Edwin Starr’s iconic ‘War’. They also wrote Cloud Nine and Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone for The Temptations

During a 1999 interview with LA Weekly, Strong told them: “With War, I had a cousin who was a paratrooper that got hurt pretty bad in Vietnam. I also knew a guy who used to sing with (Motown songwriter) Lamont Dozier that got hit by shrapnel and was crippled for life. You talk about these things with your families when you’re sitting at home, and it inspires you to say something about it”.

There are in excess of 240 songs in Strong’s back catalogue according to BMI (Broadcast Music Inc). In 2103, he told the New York Times: “Songs outlive people. The real reason Motown worked was the publishing. The records were just a vehicle to get the songs out there to the public”.

He explained: “The real money is in the publishing, and if you have publishing then hang on to it. That’s what it’s all about. If you give it away, you’re giving away your life, your legacy. Once you’re gone, those songs will still be playing”.


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Written by

Chris King

Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at