Barrett Strong, the vocalist best known for giving Motown Records its first hit with “Money (That’s What I Want),” and for songs he wrote for the Temptations, has died, Billboard and Rolling Stone report. His death was confirmed by Motown founder Berry Gordy, who, in a statement shared by Billboard, calling his songs “revolutionary.” No cause of death was given. Strong is 81.
“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my earliest artists, and the man who sang my first big hit,” Gordy said. “Barrett is not only a great singer and piano player, but he, along with his writing partner Norman Whitefield, created a unique body of work, especially on Temptations. Their hits that song was revolutionary in sound and captured the spirit of the times like ‘Cloud Nine’ and the still relevant, ‘Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World is Today).’”
Barrett Strong was born on February 5, 1941 in West Point, Mississippi. The son of a factory worker and wife, Strong was raised in Detroit, where he was one of the first musicians signed to Gordy’s label, called Tamla Records. Strong released his biggest hit, “Money (That’s What I Want)” in 1959. It sold over a million copies, and was later covered by acts including the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin.
Strong would become a major songwriting force for Motown in the 1960s, working with producer Norman Whitfield of hits including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, “War” by Edwin Starr, and “Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)” by Paul Young. The duo would score their biggest collaborative hits with the Temptations, where they wrote “Psychedelic Shack,” “Cloud Nine,” and “Ball of Confusion (That’s the World Now).” Their Temptations song “Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)” peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1971, and the duo would receive a Grammy Award for Best R&B Song in 1973 for “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone. .”
In the late 1960s, Motown was in the midst of a gradual move to Los Angeles. Strong left the label in 1972 to reconnect with his singing career in Detroit, and later signed with Epic and Capitol. The latter label released his 1975 album strongholdas well as the 1976’s Live & Love. He also works as a songwriter in the Dells, and runs a production company called Boomtown.
While “Money (That’s What I Want)” launched Strong’s career and Motown itself onto the national stage, the musician allegedly did not receive proper royalty payments for his contributions as a songwriter. “Songs are more than people,” he said The New York Times in 2013. “The real money is in publishing, and if you have publishing, then hang on to it. That’s all. If you give it, you give your life, your legacy. Once you’re gone, those songs will still play.”