Hit-Making Songwriter Dead at 67

Grammy-award winning song writer Norman Whitfield, known for co-writing such hits as "Papa was a Rolling Stone" and "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" passed away yesterday at the age of 67. Host Michel Martin offers a remembrance of Whitfield, who had an expansive career churning out hit music.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

We're going to end today's program with a remembrance. The name Norman Whitefield may not be so familiar to music fans, but his songs certainly are.

(Soundbite of song "Papa Was a Rolling Stone")

TEMPTATIONS: (Singing) Papa was a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his hat was his home, and when he died, all he left us was alone.

MARTIN: That's the Temptations singing "Papa Was a Rolling Stone," a song Whitfield co-wrote with Barrett Strong. They went on to win the Grammy for best R&B song in 1972. Whitfield penned a number of other hits for the Temptations, including "I Heard It Through The Grapevine," and "Just My Imagination." But Whitfield's music went beyond ballads. He and Strong were also known for infusing contemporary sounds and issues into the Motown sound, most notably with Barrett Strong's Vietnam protest song, "War."

(Soundbite of song "War")

Mr. EDWIN STAR: (Singing) What is it good for? Absolutely nothin' listen to me, ohhhh war, I despise.

MARTIN: Although Whitfield left Motown in 1973, he didn't leave music altogether. In 1976, he scored another hit with the title track for the movie, "Car Wash."

(Soundbite of song "Car Wash")

Ms. ROSE ROYCE: (Singing) At the car wash, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa - talkin' about the car wash, girl.

MARTIN: In 2004, Whitfield and Barrett Strong were recognized for their contributions to the music industry with an induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Producer and writer Normal Whitfield passed away on Tuesday. He was 67.

(Soundbite of song "Car Wash")

Ms. ROSE ROYCE: (Singing) Hey, get you car washed today. Fill up and you don't have to pay. Come on and give us a play. Do the wash, right away. Car wash. Talkin' 'bout the car wash. Car wash, girl.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. This is Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song "Car Wash")

Mr. ROSE ROYCE: (Singing) Sing it with feeling', ya'll. Car wash, girl. Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Car wash. Never seem to stop comin'. What'd I say. Car Wash, girl. Keep those rags and machines hummin'. Car wash.

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