Motown’s First Hit Singer, Barrett Strong, Passes Away at 81

Motown has taken another loss.

CNN reports that legendary singer and songwriter, Barrett Strong, passed away at 81. The Motown Museum made the announcement via Twitter with a black- and- white picture.

The Twitter thread takes music lovers down memory lane, giving the story of Strong’s humble beginnings. Strong was introduced to Motown founder, Berry Gordy, in 1959, after impressing singer Jackie Wilson with his vocals while on tour with his siblings. He then moved to Detroit from Mississippi and released his first single “Let’s Rock” in the same year. According to the Museum’s tweets, Strong mistakenly started his songwriting career after eavesdropping a conversation between Gordy and Motown songwriter Janie Bradford. Motown’s first hit song, “Money (That’s What I Want),” was created minutes later.

Gordy shared a statement, shared by CNN, expressing condolences on Strong’s passing. “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my earliest artists, and the man who sang my first big hit,” Gordy wrote. “Their hit songs were revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times … Barrett is an original member of the Motown Family and will be missed by all of us.”

Some of Strong’s most prolific work came later when he paired with fellow songwriter, Norman Whitfield. The two co-wrote some of Motown’s most iconic hits including “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” sung by both Gladys Knight and the Pips and Marvin Gaye. According to the Twitter thread, he also wrote several hits for The Temptations like “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me),” released in 1971 and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” which he won a Grammy Award for in 1973. Edwin Starr’s “Where I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home) also came from Strong’s pen.

Back in 2004, CNN reported the Motown legend was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.