In Remembrance | Norman Whitfield

18 09 2008


The architect of some of the most important R&B songs of the 1960s and 1970s, Norman Whitfield, has died. His songs were virtually the soundtrack for an entire generation of Americans. Whitfield was 67.

A spokeswoman at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center says Whitfield died there Tuesday. He suffered from complications of diabetes and had recently emerged from a coma, The Detroit Free Press reported.

One of the leading writers and producers of the quintessential music company, Motown Records, Whitfield co-wrote a string of Motown classics including “War” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” He was a longtime Motown producer who during the 1960s and ’70s injected rock and psychedelic touches into the label’s soul music. Many of his biggest hits were co-written with Barrett Strong, with whom he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

The two won the Grammy in 1972 for best R&B song for the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” Whitfield won another Grammy in 1976 for best original TV or motion picture score for “Car Wash.”


Car Wash

Whitfield also worked as a producer for the Temptations and others.

Many of Whitfield’s songs from that era, including Edwin Starr’s 1970 “War” and the Temptations’ 1970 “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” have a strong political tone.


War

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.”

Among Whitfield’s other songs, according to the Songwriters Hall Web site, are “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” “Cloud Nine” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me),” all hits for the Temptations; and “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” a 1969 hit for Marvin Gaye.


Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)

Just last week, Gaye’s version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” from 1968, was ranked at No. 65 in Billboard magazine’s compilation of the top singles of the past 50 years. It was also a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, in 1967.


I Heard It Through The Grapevine

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