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Joe Messina, 'Cream' in Funk Brothers' Oreo Cookie, Dead at 93

Courtesy of Motown Museum
Joe Messina (right) helped define the "Motown Sound."
Joe Messina, a jazz-trained musician whose rhythm guitar playing helped define the "Motown Sound," died Monday at his son's home in Northville, Michigan.

The Detroit News confirmed the death of the guitarist, who lost his 12-year battle with unspecified kidney disease. He was 93.

The Motown Museum posted a lengthy tribute to the artist on its official Facebook page.

"It is with a heavy heart that Motown Museum announces the passing of one of Motown’s original Funk Brothers, Joe Messina," the post read in part.

"We remember Joe Messina for his prolific contributions to Motown Records and Motown Museum. In the museum’s first temporary exhibit called 'The Magic Behind the Magic,' a tribute to the Funk Brothers, it was Joe who donated the first instrument, his famous guitar... Motown Museum sends our sincere condolences to the Messina family, and to Joe’s friends and fans around the world."

Messina jokingly referred to himself as “the cream in the Oreo cookie,” due to his status as one of the few white musicians in the Motown house band the Funk Brothers.

He played on numerous Motown hits in the 1960s and early '70s as part of the iconic studio band, including recordings by Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops, and had was one of the sole surviving players from its original core ensemble.

Alongside regulars Robert White and Eddie Willis, inside Motown’s fabled Studio A, Black guitar virtuosos he set between — the cookies to his cream — while helping lay down the backbeat for the sound that would become synonymous with Motown on his Fender Telecaster with a modified neck, Messina and his fellow Funk Brothers operated in obscurity.

They finally got their due for their crucial role in the label's hitmaking success in 2002. The award-winning documentary "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" exposed them to the world and led to several prominent live reunion shows and eventually an audience with President George W Bush at the White House.

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