Joe Hunter, Motown's first bandleader and a three-time Grammy winner with the Funk Brothers, has died. He was 79. Hunter was a diabetic, but the cause of his death on Friday was not immediately known,

Joe Hunter, Motown's first bandleader and a three-time Grammy winner with the Funk Brothers, has died. He was 79. Hunter was a diabetic, but the cause of his death on Friday was not immediately known, his son, Joe Hunter Jr., told the Detroit News.

Hunter was Motown legend Berry Gordy Jr.'s first hire. He backed up acts such as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on piano in the late 1950s, as Gordy mustered a staff for what would become Motown Records. Hunter also served as Motown's first bandleader in the early days.

The Funk Brothers played backup on many classic Motown recordings. Hunter's piano work was an integral part of such songs as Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" and "Come and Get These Memories," and Marvin Gaye's "Pride and Joy." After Motown left Detroit in 1972, like many musicians, Hunter took what gigs he could find.

When Philadelphia musician and historian Allan Slutsky set out to find all the Funk Brothers in the 1980s, he found Hunter playing for tips at the Troy, Mich., Marriott.

After the documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown" was released in 2002, the Funk Brothers' soundtrack album won two Grammy awards in 2003. In 2004, Hunter and the Funks were awarded with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys, and the group toured for several years before legal disputes fractured the reunion.


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