Motown legend Barrett Strong, co-writer of I Heard It Through The Grapevine, has died, aged 81

Barrett Strong, one of Motown’s greatest songwriters, has died at the age of 81. The news was confirmed by the Motown Museum on social media.

A self-taught musician, Strong was one of the first signings to Berry Gordy’s Tamla Records, recording its first hit, Money (That’s What I Want), in 1959. The song was later recorded by the likes of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

It was as a lyricist that Strong found arguably his greatest calling, though. Working with producer Norman Whitfield, the pair wrote some of the greatest songs of the classic Motown era, including I Heard It Through the Grapevine, War, and Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home.

Towards the end of the ‘60s and in the early ‘70s, Whitfield and Strong then ripped up the Motown rulebook with the pioneering psychedelic soul records they created for the Temptations: Cloud Nine, I Can’t Get Next to You, Psychedelic Shack, Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today) and the epic, Grammy-winning Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.

During this period, the duo also returned to Motown’s sonic roots with Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me), another Temptations classic and a Billboard number 1.

When Motown upped sticks from Detroit and moved to LA, Strong left the label and embarked on a solo career, recording for Epic and Capitol Records. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004.

"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," said Motown founder Berry Gordy in a statement.

Ben Rogerson
Deputy Editor

I’m the Deputy Editor of MusicRadar, having worked on the site since its launch in 2007. I previously spent eight years working on our sister magazine, Computer Music. I’ve been playing the piano, gigging in bands and failing to finish tracks at home for more than 30 years, 24 of which I’ve also spent writing about music and the ever-changing technology used to make it.