Motown producer/songwriter Norman Whitfield, who had a hand in such iconic songs as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” died yesterday (Sept. 16) in Los Angeles at the age of 65. Whitfield has struggled with diabetes for some time.
Born in New York, Whitfield moved with his family to Detroit in the early 1960s and was eventually hired to work in Motown’s quality control department. Before long, he was a member of the label’s songwriting team and was working closely with acts like the Temptations, Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight & the Pips, and co-writing smashes like “Grapevine” with collaborator Barrett Strong.
On albums like the cult classic “Psychedelic Shack” and songs like “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” Whitfield pushed the Temptations into edgier musical territory, urging them to address the cultural and societal revolution at hand.
“Norman Whitfield was one of the most prolific songwriters and record producers of our time,” Motown great Smokey Robinson says in a statement. “He will live forever through his great music.”
He left Motown in 1973 to form his own Whitfield Records, taking with him the group the Undisputed Truth. His biggest hit from this era was Rose Royce’s “Car Wash,” which topped the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977.
Whitfield returned to Motown in the early 1980s, resuming his collaboration with the Temptations on such hits as “Sail Away.”
In recent years, Whitfield spent six months on house arrest for failing to report years worth of royalty income. According to reports, he’d recently come out of a coma.