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Barrett Strong, Prolific Songwriter and Vocalist Behind Motown's First Hit, Dies at 81

Courtesy Photo Motown Museum 
Barrett Strong, the man behind Motown Records' first hit and a gifted singer and songwriter who helped create some of the legendary label's classics has died.

The Motown Museum announced his death, at the age of 81, on social media Sunday.

"It is with great sadness that we share the passing of legendary @ClassicMotown singer and songwriter Barrett Strong," the Museum wrote on its official Twitter account.

Born in West Point, Mississippi on Feb. 5, 1941, and raised in Detroit, Strong was the voice behind Motown's first hit, "Money (That’s What I Want)."

Recorded when he was just 18, Strong played piano and provided the vocals for the Berry Gordy and Janie Bradford penned song, in 1959.

Within a year the record had become the label that would come to be nicknamed Hitsville's first smash, selling over a million copies and peaking at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot R&B chart (No. 23 on the Billboard 100).

Gordy, who founded Motown, offered high praise for his departed colleague in a statement, even though the men had butted heads over the years after Strong claimed he co-wrote the song along with Grody and Bradford.

"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," he said.

Ultimately, Barrett was denied a writing credit but that did not damage his relationship with Motown.

Along with Whitfield, he was the driving force behind some of its signature hits, such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "War" and "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone."

He was voted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, which cited him as "a pivotal figure in Motown's formative years," in 2004.


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