Singer, Songwriter, And Performer Of Motown’s First Hit Song Dies At 81

John Mathew Smith

Singer and songwriter Barrett Strong died on January 28, 2023, in Los Angeles. He was 81 years old.

In the 1950s, Strong, who was born in Mississippi, began recording for Berry Gordy’s label, Tamla Records. In 1960, he recorded Gordy’s song “Money (That’s What I Want),” and that recording ended up becoming the first hit song for both Strong and Gordy. While it was never the number 1 song on the charts, it did make it to number 2 on the R&B singles chart and number 23 on the Hot 100.

Strong is best known for helping launch Motown Records. As a staff writer at the company, he wrote hit songs including “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” which was recorded by the Temptations and ended up winning a Grammy. In 2004, Strong was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Upon learning the news of Strong’s death, Gordy commented, “I am saddened to hear of the passing of Barrett Strong, one of my earliest artists, and the man who sang my first big hit “Money (That’s What I Want)” in 1959.” He added, “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, primarily with the Temptations. … My heartfelt condolences go out to his family and friends. Barrett is an original member of the Motown family and will be missed by all of us.”

Strong’s funeral was held on March 4th. While the world may remember him for his music, at the funeral, his family remembered him for the man he truly was – a brother, a father, an uncle and a grandfather. About 200 people attended the service. Flower arrangements sent to the funeral home included a pink and white wreath of roses that adorned Strong’s casket. It was sent to the funeral home by Gordy.

An exact cause of death has not been given, but Strong suffered from health issues in recent years. He also had a stroke in 2009.

Rest in peace.