Barrett Strong, a founding artist and songwriter under Motown Records, known for breakthrough single “Money (That’s What I Want)” and collaborating with fellow songwriter Norman Whitfield on classics such as “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” “War” and “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” — has died. He was 81, a cause of death has not been revealed.
Strong’s death was confirmed on Sunday (January 29) on social media via the Motown Museum.
“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,” Motown founder Berry Gordy said in a statement.
Born in West Point, Mississippi in 1941, Strong relocated to Detroit during his childhood, where he became a self-taught musician and former local gospel group, the Strong Singers. As a teenager, Strong became friends with iconic soul vocalist Aretha Franklin, singer-songwriter Smokey Robinson and Motown founder Berry Gordy, joining the label roster (when it was formerly known as Tamla) in the late-1950s. His 1959 single “Money” became the label’s first major hit before Strong joined Whitfield as a songwriting team, writing classics such as The Temptations’ “I Wish It Would Rain,” “I Can’t Get Next to You” and “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” along with Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” Whitfield died in 2008.
Leaving Motown in the early 1970s, Strong went on to release solo albums including his 1975 debut Stronghold, 1976’s Live & Love, 1987’s Love Is You followed 20 years later with 2008’s Stronghold II. In 2004, he was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, citied as “a pivotal figure in Motown’s formative years.”
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