Motown songwriter Sylvia Moy, the storied recording studio’s first female producer who penned or collaborated on several hits, including Stevie Wonder’s “My Cherie Amour” and Marvin Gaye’s “It Takes Two,” has died in suburban Detroit. She was 78.
Moy died Saturday at a hospital in Dearborn from complications from pneumonia, her brother, Melvin Moy, told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Sylvia Moy started her career as a singer, but she knew she had the ability to write songs and produce at the hit-making Detroit recording studio — something her brother said was atypical at the time.
“We’re talking about the 1960s,” he said. “Racism and sexism — that was what was going on in the ’60s, and certain disciplines relative to the music business were taboo for women.”
Motown founder Berry Gordy gave Moy her first shot, but with a catch: She had to come up with something for a young Stevie Wonder.
“He was in puberty and his voice had changed,” Melvin Moy said. “Other producers couldn’t find something that fit.”
But Sylvia Moy found something. She and Wonder worked on different chord progressions until they found a vibe they both thought could be developed.
“Then she worked on the lyrics and the melodies, and bam! It was a hit,” her brother said.
That hit was “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” which peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1966, after its release in late 1965.
Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006, Moy was Motown’s first female producer and “pioneered some really, really unique things for women,” said Motown arranger and musician Paul Riser.
Riser said she was a great song and lyric writer, a classical vocalist, sang opera and taught other vocalists. She later moved from songwriting into producing and arranging, and eventually opened her own recording studio in Detroit.
In addition to her brother, Sylvia Moy is survived by another brother and five sisters. Her funeral will be held this weekend in Detroit.