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Early Motown Songwriter Barrett Strong Dies At 81

Alana Matthew | 101 Magazine Barrett Strong, one of the founding artists of Motown, is credited with writing some of the label’s biggest hits. Image Courtesy of Classic Motown

The legendary voice behind Motown’s breakthrough record ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ Barrett Strong died on Jan. 28 at the age of 81 leaving behind a legacy that transformed the sound of American soul forever. 

Strong was born in West Point, Mississippi, and raised in Detroit where he would later immerse himself into the world of Motown. Performing with the gospel group ‘The Strong Singers’ created by self-taught pianist Strong and his three sisters, his work eventually caught the attention of prominent figures like Berry Gordy and Smokey Robinson. Gordy, the founder of Motown, expressed his sadness about the news in a tweet.

“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,” the tweet 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.”

Strong, one of the founding artists of Motown is credited with influencing some of its greatest creations. As the label came to life amid the racial reckoning of the twentieth century, Motown writers Strong and Whitfield, who died in 2008, translated the spirit of the time period into chart-topping melodies like Edwin Starr’s “War.” Gordy describes the collaborative work of Strong and Whitfield as “revolutionary in sound,” relevant and representative of their time referencing hits like “Cloud nine” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).”

Alana Matthew | 101 Magazine Barrett Strong was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame on June 10, 2004. Image Courtesy of PBS.

The prolific catalog of classics from the Whitfield-Strong duo included various selections, such as“Heard It Through the Grapevine,” Grammy-winning record “Papa was Rolling a Stone” and many more.

Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004, Strong’s songwriting remains immortal with over 240 musical works boasting his influence during Motown’s heyday.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and Motown family and fans around the world,” Motown Museum tweeted Sunday announcing the passing of the late Motown hitmaker.

Briana Alvarado

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