Norman Whitfield, renowned BMI songwriter, producer and arranger of many Motown Records hits, including “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone,” died September 16. He was 68. The cause of death was heart and kidney failure due to diabetes.
Born in Harlem, NY on May 12, 1940, Whitfield spent his early years in Detroit, where its formidable music scene led him to a job at local label, Thelma Records. He later joined Motown Records in the early 1960s as in-house tambourine player, but was eventually responsible for quality control because of his keen ear. While at Motown, he co-wrote tunes recorded by Marvin Gaye (“I Heard It Through The Grapevine”) and the Temptations (“Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone”) before his departure in the mid-1970’s to start his own label, Whitfield Records.
Whitfield’s expertise lead to countless awards, including a Grammy for the soundtrack to the film Car Wash, for which he wrote the score; 43 BMI awards (26 R&B/Urban; 15 Pop and 2 TV); and his production work on the Temptations’ Cloud Nine album won them a Grammy in 1967. In 2004 he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
He is survived by five children: one daughter, Irasha; sons, Norman, Michael, Johnnie and Roland.