with barrett strong
b. Norman Jesse Whitfield, 12th May 1941, Harlem, New York, New York City, U.S.A.
d. 16th September 2008, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, U.S.A.
Simply stated, Norman Whitfield's writing and production work was way ahead of it's time.
Born in New York City in 1941, Norman worked as a staff producer at the small Detroit label Thelma Records.
When he was 19 he started to regularly visit Motown's Hitsville U.S.A. offices trying to get a chance of work, which eventually came to fruition in 1963.
He was originally recruited as a writer, although he soon found favour at the label as a producer.
Norman produced The Marvelettes, 'Too Many Fish in the Sea' and The Velvelettes, 'Needle in a Haystack' / 'Too Many Fish In The Sea', Marvin Gaye, 'Pride And Joy', which enabled him to move onto production chores for the labels premier act, the Temptations.
Working with with co-producer Brian Holland, he moved the Temptations from a purely sweet Soul ensemble (as the group were perceived under the wing of Smokey Robinson) towards an edgier style of R & B.
The resulting 'Ain't Too Proud to Beg', epitomised the groups new musical direction, although he ably demonstrated his ability to drop the tempo for the odd classic ballad, probably the most prominent example being the melodic, 'Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)'.
From there, 'Beauty's Only Skin Deep' and '(I Know) I'm Losing You' followed, which led to Norman taking sole control of the groups direction by 1967.
Norman then teamed up with lyricist Barrett Strong (currently recovering from a stroke in 2008) to compose a new series of Temptations records which reflected the emergence of psychedelia, beginning with 1968's 'I Wish It Would Rain' the first Motown release to incorporate the use of sound effects.
From there the team of Whitfield and Strong recorded a string of classic Temptations hits, among them 'Cloud Nine,' 'I Can't Get Next to You' and 'Ball of Confusion,' highlighting the social and political changes of the late 1960's.
Extending the 'Whitfield / Strong' remit, 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone', followed on for the Temptations.
The label began concentrating more on their album concept releases.
Having proved himself ahead of his time, Norman penned not simply individual songs but complex, multi-layered albums, reaching their pinnacle on the Temptations' album 'Masterpiece'.
In 1970 he formed Undisputed Truth, and began writing and recording for the group at Motown up until 1976.
Norman Whitfield had left Motown in 1973 to form his own Whitfield Records imprint.
During 1973 he attended an Edwin Starr concert where he was impressed by the backing band called Total Concept Unlimited.
It was with Norman when the group changed their name to Rose Royce.
Whitfield Records had adopted a funkier styling and achieved speedy success with Rose Royce and their soundtrack to the 1976 film 'Car Wash'.
By the early 1980's, Norman adopted a lower public profile.
Into the new Millennium, by 2005, he admitted failing to report to the IRS the royalties he had earned between 1995 and 1999.
He was sentenced to six months in prison and a $25,000 fine but was not jailed because of ill health.
By 2007, Norman had struggled for months with complications from diabetes, and his prognosis had been day-to-day for several weeks.
By 2008 he had emerged from a coma.
Norman Jesse Whitfield died on Tuesday 16th of September 2008, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 67.
r: with barrett strong
r: with willie hutch