Norman Whitfield, R.I.P.

Sep 17th, 2008 // 9 Comments


Norman Whitfield, a songwriter and producer who helped push the Motown Sound into the world of “psychedelic soul,” passed away in Los Angeles earlier this week after developing complications from diabetes. Whitfield co-wrote “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and produced both the Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight versions of the track; he also worked extensively with the Temptations, and produced their Grammy-winning songs “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was A Rolling Stone” (above). In 1973, he left Motown and formed his own label, Whitfield Records, which had its biggest success with Rose Royce’s “Car Wash” and the soundtrack to the film of the same name. Whitfield was 67. [Detroit Free Press; HT TDS]

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  1. Rock You Like An Iracane

    WHAT a producer; “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” could be the best song ever recorded from a production standpoint. Sad to see a great go.

  2. Anonymous

    Wow, the school where I tap is preparing a Funk and Motown show, so it happens I’ve been listening to quite a bit of Mr. Whitfield’s material these days. A truly spectacular body of work he produced…

  3. Nicolars

    Sad news — he was a genius producer.

  4. DaeSu

    A devastating lost. So sad to hear about this. He produced and co-wrote “I Wish It Would Rain,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” “I Can’t Get Next to You,” “Superstar,” “Just My Imagination,” “Ball of Confusion,” the list goes on and on. Damn.

  5. Ned Raggett

    Can only but echo all that’s said. Man had an ear and knew how to use it down the line, and those songwriting credits alone!

  6. Anonymous

    Oh no! Mr. Whitfield was one of my idols. I have a tremendous amount of respect for all that he’s accomplished. His credits included one of my all time favourites “Smiling Faces Sometimes” and “War” as well as “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” the movie “Car Wash”. I’m going to drink myself into a stupor in his honour.

  7. exposition

    Oh, this is so sad! He and Dennis Edwards reinvented The Temptations. Cloud Nine still sounds like nothing I’ve ever heard. The 2 disc “Psychedlic Soul” set from Universal/Motown is highly, highly recommended as an all killer, no filler look at his work.

  8. vMh

    No bueno.

    A genius producer. The Temptations’ albums from ‘I Wish It Would Rain’ to ‘Masterpiece’ offer proof. By ‘Masterpiece’, he was running the show to such a degree, that a pic of HIMSELF dominates the album artwork…and (following the lead of “Papa…” and other earlier productions) some songs are nearly instrumentals! The greatest male vocal group of all time putting out near instrumentals!!! hahaha

    Bless ya, Norman. You made the world a better place…and your production on “Cloud Nine” won Motown their first Grammy.

  9. jasonelias

    @vMh: Very true. I’d even bump it up to include 1990 on the strength of “Ain’t No Justice.” Got to love that Masterpiece artwork–and that back cover…

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