Norman Whitfield, songwriter, producer, and a chief architect of Motown Records' sound in the mid-to-late 1960s and early 70s, passed away in Los Angeles yesterday (September 16), according to various reports.
He had recently emerged from a coma after struggling with complications from diabetes. The Associated Press reports that he was 67.
Whitfield is best known for his hand in writing and producing several of Motown's biggest hits, including Gladys Knight & the Pips' (and, later, Marvin Gaye's) "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone", and Edwin Starr's "War", all penned with frequent songwriting partner Barrett Strong. In addition to writing and producing material for the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and other Motown acts, Whitfield is credited with helping to usher the label's sound from its smoother early days into the headier psychedelic era, influenced by the likes of Sly Stone and James Brown.
Whitfield continued to work in the music industry after leaving Motown in 1973, and later struck chart gold with Rose Royce's "Car Wash", which he wrote and produced. He returned to the producer's chair at Motown in the 1980s.
"It's a very sad day," Whitfield's onetime Motown colleague Janie Bradford-- who spoke to Whitfield shortly before his death-- told the Detroit Free Press. "It sounded like he was fighting with everything he had to get it together. Just fighting back."
Marvin Gaye: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (live)
The Temptations: "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" (live)
Edwin Starr: "War" (live)
Rose Royce: "Car Wash"