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Edwin Starr, 61; Singer of Motown Hit 'War' in 1970

April 03, 2003|From Staff and Wire Reports

Edwin Starr, the singer who produced the No. 1 Motown hit "War," died Wednesday of an apparent heart attack, his manager said. He was 61.

Starr died at his home near Nottingham, England, said Lilian Kyle.

Last weekend, Starr had performed at two shows in Stuttgart, Germany. Rainer Haas, the shows' promoter, said, "He was just superb. He played to 16,000 people over the two nights, and he put on a great show."

Last year, Starr performed at the wedding of Liza Minnelli and David Gest in New York.

Born Charles Hatcher in Nashville, Tenn., he moved with his family to Cleveland when he was 3.

He formed his first group, the Future Tones, in 1957, recording one single before he was drafted into the Army for three years of service.

After his discharge, he toured for two years with the Bill Doggett Combo before being offered a solo deal in 1965.

His early hits included "Agent Double-O Soul" and "Stop Her on Sight (S.O.S)."

But Starr's biggest success came with "War," a No. 1 hit in 1970 during a time of unrest in America over the Vietnam War.

Written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, the song first appeared on an album by the Temptations. According to the "Billboard Book of Number One Hits" by Fred Bronson, the song received huge support from college students around the country, encouraging its release as a single.

According to Bronson, Whitfield asked Starr if he wanted to record the song, and Starr said yes. "War" entered Billboard's Hot 100 on July 11, 1970, at No. 72. In just seven weeks, it made it to No. 1.

The recording earned Starr a Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. The song was later covered by Bruce Springsteen.

Over the years, however, Starr said the real meaning of the song had been lost.

"The song was never about the Vietnam War," he told the weekly British newspaper the Voice in 2001. "It was about the neighborhood wars and the racial wars that were going on inside America at the time. It just happened to coincide with the war in Vietnam."

Starr began working on film soundtracks, recording the music for "Hell Up in Harlem" in 1973. He left Motown in 1975, recording for small labels in Britain and the United States, and found success in disco with the hits "Contact" and "H.A.P.P.Y. Radio."

Starr moved to England in the 1980s and spent much of his time touring Europe on the oldies circuit.

He participated in an award-winning British Broadcasting Corp. radio series on the U.S. civil rights movement. In 1995, he was featured on a Walt Disney children's workout album "Mousercise."

Suzi Quatro, a '70s rock star who had known Starr since she was a teenager in Detroit, praised him Wednesday. "He was the best," Quatro said. "There was nobody better on stage, and he was the nicest man you could ever wish to meet."

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