Barrett Strong, who sang Motown’s first hit, “Money (That’s What I Want),” and co-wrote R&B classics sung by The Temptations and Marvin Gaye, has died at 81, the Motown Museum in Detroit said Sunday.
“It is with great sadness that we share the passing of legendary (Motown) singer and songwriter Barrett Strong,” the museum said on Twitter.
Strong won a Grammy Award for best R&B song in 1972 for “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone” — sung by The Temptations — with Motown Records producer Norman Whitfield.
He also partnered with Whitfield on some of Motown’s greatest hits, including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” made famous by Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight and the Pips; Edwin Starr’s “Where I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)”; and The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”
Born in 1941 in Mississippi and raised in Detroit, Strong’s ethereal voice was noticed by singer Jackie Wilson, who introduced him to Motown founder Berry Gordy, the Motown Museum said.
Strong released his first single, “Let’s Rock,” in 1959 on Gordy’s Tamla Records, and later that year wrote “Money.”
The song reached number two on the US R&B charts and number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100, and was later ranked 288 on Rolling Stone magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
He left Motown in 1972 and continued to release music for the labels Epic, Capitol and others through the 1970s and 80s.
In a statement issued Sunday, Gordy said Strong was “not only a great singer and piano player,” but he and Whitfield “created an incredible body of work.”
“Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times,” Gordy said in the statement, as reported by Billboard.
“Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us.”
Billboard reported that Strong died on Sunday in Detroit, but no cause of death was given.
Folk singer Billy Bragg on Sunday shared a tribute to Strong on Twitter, alongside a video clip of The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination.”
“Last night – or was it the night before? – the opening riff of this tune was threaded through my dreams,” he wrote. “3 mins and 48 secs of perfection. And now I hear that Barrett Strong, who wrote the song with Norman Whitfield has passed away. Damn.”