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Music World Mourns Famed Motown Producer Norman Whitfield


Legendary songwriter and producer Norman Whitfield, who helped define "The Motown Sound" in the 1960s, died September 16 at a hospital in Los Angeles, California. Whitfield had suffered from complications with diabetes. He was 67. As VOA's Doug Levine tells us, Whitfield is best remembered for creating one of the greatest soul songs of all time, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine."

In 1967, Norman Whitfield, along with his frequent collaborator Barrett Strong, turned out Motown Records' best-selling single to date, "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," performed by rising vocal group Gladys Knight and The Pips. A year later, a version of the song recorded before the Gladys Knight version, by singer Marvin Gaye, became an even bigger hit for Motown.

New York native Norman Whitfield got his start at Motown after his family moved to Detroit, Michigan when he was 19 years old. His persistence led owner Berry Gordy to hire him to work in Motown's quality control department, and later as a staff songwriter.

Whitfield's early credits include hit songs for Marvin Gaye, The Marvelettes and The Velvelettes, but in 1966, when he was assigned to produce The Temptations, his career flourished.

The culmination of Whitfield's hit-making run with The Temptations came with the group's 1972 single, "Papa Was A Rolling Stone." It earned him three Grammy Awards, including one for Best R&B Song.

Whitfield also wrote and produced the Edwin Starr classic "War," and "Smiling Faces (Sometimes)" by The Undisputed Truth. He won another Grammy for his soundtrack to the 1976 film Car Wash. Whitfield and Barrett Strong were inducted into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2004.

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