Hitmaking Motown Producer Norman Whitfield Dies In L.A.

Motown producer and songwriter Norman Whitfield, who helped create some of the legendary label’s most important anthems, including Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” has died in Los Angeles, a spokesman said on Wednesday. The hitmaker died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center on Tuesday, said Motown Alumni Assn. spokesman Ron Brewington. He was 65. The cause of death was not immediately known, but Brewington said Whitfield suffered from diabetes and several other ailments. Whitfield was one of the most successful producers at Motown, the Detroit label where acts such as the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and the Four Tops — along with Gaye and the Temptations — changed the face of popular culture. But while Motown’s pop sound was palatable to mainstream ears, Whitfield was influenced by the harder soul of James Brown and Sly and Family Stone. Along with lyricist Barrett Strong, he dragged Motown into the psychedelic era in the late 1960s with songs about race relations and urban decay. “My thing was to out-Sly Sly Stone,” Whitfield told Marvin Gaye’ biographer, David Ritz. “Sly was definitely sly, and his sound was new, his grooves were incredible, he borrowed a lot from rock. He caught the psychedelic thing. He was bad. I could match him though, rhythm for rhythm, horn for horn.” After leaving Motown in 1973, Whitfield enjoyed success with the title song and soundtrack album for the 1976 comedy feature “Car Wash.” He reunited with the Temptations in 1984 to produce their single “Sail Away.” SRC: AP


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