By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer
Harvey Fuqua belonged to one of the most prominent dynasties in musical history-that of Motown insiders-which included Berry Gordy and his sisters; Smokey Robinson; Clarence Avant; and others.
Ron Brewington of the Motown Alumni Association confirmed that Fuqua died of a heart attack on July 6 at a Detroit hospital at the age of 80. Upon learning of his death, Motown founder Berry Gordy issued the following tribute about his longtime associate:
“We are all so saddened to hear of the passing of one of our greatest family members. Harvey Fuqua was a pioneer in his own right, bringing in and mentoring Marvin Gaye, Lamont Dozier and others, in the early years of Motown. An incredible performer, producer, writer and executive, heading our Artist Development Department- Harvey did it all. We will always love and miss him.”
An R&B jack-of-all-trades-baritone lead singer, songwriter, arranger, record super-producer and label executive-Fuqua’s musical roots ran deep. Born in Louisville, Ky., on July 27, 1929, his uncle, Charlie Fuqua, was a member of the Ink Spots, the famed vocal group whose big hit, “If I Didn’t Care,” was the subject of a long-running parody by Redd Foxx, aka “Fred Sanford,” on the 1970s Norman Lear comedy “Sanford and Son.”
Fuqua began singing as a member of the Crazy Sounds in Louisville. The group moved to Cleveland, where it was renamed The Moonglows by infamous Cleveland disc jockey Alan ‘Moondog’ Freed, an early White promoter of Black music. With Fuqua as the group’s lead singer and writer, their single “Sincerely” reached #1 in 1954 on the Billboard R&B chart.
In the late 1950s, Fuqua dropped The Moonglows and, along with a group previously known as The Marquees (that included the nascent singing career of D.C. native Marvin Gaye), created Harvey and the Moonglows. This iteration of the group registered with a big hit, “Ten Commandments of Love.”
Eventually, Fuqua and Gaye moved to Detroit, where Gaye started his Motown tenure as a session drummer before his raw vocal talents morphed him into a sexy solo legend. In Detroit, Fuqua worked with Berry Gordy’s sister Anna at Anna Records. Gaye would later marry Anna Gordy; Fuqua married another Gordy sister, Gwendolyn, and, while married, the two distributed the very first Motown hit single, Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want),” on Anna Records.
Fuqua later sold Anna Records to Berry Gordy, with Gordy hiring his brother-in-law to develop recording talent. Fuqua’s Motown days as head of artist development, record producer and label executive resulted in major Motown acquisitions, like the Spinners, Junior Walker and The All Stars, Shorty Long and Johnny Bristol, with whom he co-produced several hits.
All those who feel that Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell are the archetypes of soulful duos can thank Fuqua, who’s largely responsible for some of their stylish duets-“Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and “Your Precious Love”-which he co-produced.
He is also known to have produced Stevie Wonder’s “Yester Me, Yester You, Yesterday”; co-wrote the Supremes’ “Someday We’ll Be Together” with Johnny Bristol; and he played major production roles in the careers of New Birth, Sylvester (particularly “Dance (Disco Heat)” and “You Make Me Feel Mighty Real”) and Two Tons o’ Fun (aka The Weather Girls.)
Harvey Fuqua’s name, though, is indelibly stamped on the American musical psyche since 1982 when he reunited with Gaye to produce the singer’s “Midnight Love” album, which included the Grammy-winning masterjam, “Sexual Healing.”
The Moonglows were finally inducted into Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000; also that year, Fuqua set up Resurging Artist Records and was a trustee of The Rhythm and Blues Foundation.
Many industry heavyweights spoke fondly of Fuqua. Smokey Robinson called him “my brother,” explaining:
“When I was a kid growing up in Detroit, when I was about 11, I used to buy records. Harvey was the lead singer of a group called the Moonglows and their song writer. And I bought all of their records! They were one of the biggest R&B groups ever, I’m sure! I never dared to dream that I would meet Harvey Fuqua.
When Motown started to really get going, we had a department called Artist Development; we were the only company in history, I think, to have that department. When you signed with Motown and became a Motown artist, you had to go through artist development, where you were taught singing, choreography-anything to do with show business, you were taught in artist development. And it was mandatory. And I don’t care who you became-no matter how big-I mean Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Miracles-two days a week when you were in Detroit, you had to go to artist development. You went there or you had to pay a fine.
He came over to Motown and he knew Berry through Berry’s sister Gwen, who he was married to for a short time. So Harvey was the head of artist development at Motown. . . which was when I met Harvey for the first time. And we became very close. And he also brought Marvin Gaye over to Motown.
And with the exception of the last six years or so, Harvey traveled with me-for about 15 years or so-never as my road manager but as my lighting director (i.e., the person who’s responsible for the lighting at concerts and other events.)
He was working on a project of his own which he let me hear. He was going to record a couple of my songs, “The Tracks of My Tears” being one of them.”
LAS: What will you remember about him the most?
“Harvey was a lot of fun. I loved Harvey very much. And my passion, other than music, is golf. And Harvey was one of the people who started me playing golf. We played golf together all over the world. And like I said, I’m gonna miss him. He was my brother and I loved him very much.”
Two other music legends-Clarence Avant and Don Cornelius-issued their own statements of condolence, respectively. Clarence Avant remarked:
“My condolences to Harvey Fuqua’s family. He was a pioneer in the music industry. He brought Marvin Gaye, one of the greatest artists that ever lived, to the world and the Spinners to Motown Records. May his soul rest in peace.”
And Don Cornelius, recalling the times that Marvin Gaye as well as the Spinners were on “Soul Train,” added, “I was sad to hear of Harvey’s death. He was in the Moonglows and he was a producer. Of course, he was responsible for bringing Marvin Gaye and the Spinners to Motown. My prayers are with his family.”
Funeral plans were pending at press time.
And in case you were wondering, Fuqua’s nephew is Antoine Fuqua, who directed Denzel Washington’s Oscar-winning performance in 2001’s “Training Day.”