Barrett Strong Motown’s first hitmaker dies at 81

Barrett Strong, who sang the first hit for Motown, with “Money (That’s What I Want),” and songwriter behind ‘”I Heard It Through the Grapevine” has died at 81, according to reports.

The Motown hit song went on to become covered by dozens of other artistes, most notably the Beatles in the early 60s, and the Flying Lizards in 1979.

Motown founder Berry Gordy reportedly said in a statement that he is saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, “one of my earliest artistes, and the man who sang my first big hit ‘Money (That’s What I Want)” in 1959″. 

According to the statement,”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, primarily with the Temptations. Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times like ‘Cloud Nine’ and the still relevant, ‘Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).’  My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends. Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us”.  

Strong went on to co-write a bunch of Motown hits with Norman Whitfield, including “”I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips; Edwin Starr’s “War,” “Smiling Faces Sometimes” by the Undisputed Truth; the Temptations’ “Cloud Nine”, “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Psychedelic Shack”, “Ball of Confusion,” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”, among others. Strong received a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1973 for “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone”. Strong and Whitfield also co-wrote the ballad “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me).”

Strong, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004, didn’t write “Money.” The song is credited to Motown founder Berry Gordy and his then secretary, Janie Bradford. (It’s their only collaboration of note.) So, he didn’t reap much financial reward from the track. But presumably he made money with the Whitfield songs. 


Subscribe to our Newsletter
Stay up-to-date