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Throngs of theater-goers have enjoyed the hit musical, Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations. The Broadway production is filled with sing-along moments covering the incredible career of one of Motown’s most successful recording groups, told from the perspective of the remaining original Temp member Otis Williams.

Known as a singular artist, the role of Smokey Robinson as an early songwriter for the Temptations is a moment in the musical that breaks the hard-hitting dialogue with Smokey’s soft voice. Another major moment is one that documents The Temptations desire to participate in the anti-war movement and being handed a song written by Norman Whitfield but never recorded by the Temps. War, alternatively recorded by Edwin Starr became a major hit and a missed opportunity for the Temptations.

What is missing from this narrative is the fact that Norman Whitfield was one-half of the songwriting team. The other half was Barrett Strong. Barrett Strong recently died on January 28th at the age of 81.

Black man with bald head and white collared shirt smiles at a photographer
Barrett Strong in1996, image courtesy John Mathew Smith

In some circles, Strong is known as Motown’s first hit-maker. Together with Whitfield, they were responsible for dozens of popular Motown hits like War, and including I Heard it Through the Grapevine, I Wish it Would Rain, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Cloud Nine, Just My Imagination, Too Busy Thinking About My Baby, and a long list of hits recorded by numerous other artists.

The story of the Temptations is just one part of the long legacy left in song by the dynamic and talented Barrett Strong. Fortunately, in 2004 Strong was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame alongside Norman Whitfield. Unfortunately, it seems as though his impact and his life do not hold necessary prominence in the stories that document the most talked about and remembered history of The Hit Factory which is forever known as Motown. Barrett Strong’s contribution to the American music canon is remembered here and will never fade from our view.


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