Monday, September 21, 2020
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Sylvia Moy: Motown’s First Female Record Producer Passes
By Larry Buford
Published April 26, 2017

Sylvia Moy (Courtesy Photo)

[Author’s note: Before her passing, I did a phone interview with Ms. Moy in 2015. She said she had just moved back to her family home, and her computer was not set up for her to receive the resulting article for her approval. This story is based on our conversation.]

There was a time during the Motown “Heyday” that you could not say Stevie Wonder without saying Sylvia Moy. She’s mentioned briefly on page 226 of Motown founder Berry Gordy’s autobiography “To Be Loved,” but there is so much more of her story that will be revealed in her forthcoming book.

History records that Moy was the first official Motown female record producer/songwriter even before Valerie Simpson of the magnificent hit-making duo Ashford & Simpson.

In his book Gordy says, “I was excited that hits were coming fast on a lot of our artists, but I was worried about Stevie Wonder. He hadn’t had a hit since “Fingertips” almost three years before…he was an adolescent and his voice was beginning to change…we were trying to get a hit on him before that happened.”

Moy recalled that during a company meeting while all the other artists were being assigned to the various producers, Wonder was not. She asked and got assigned to Wonder by A&R Director Mickey Stevenson. It was an eleventh hour deal that perhaps saved Wonder from being just another one-hit-wonder.

Moy said she at first felt a little intimidated and tearfully told her father about it. He wisely told her to pray and remember that nobody there at Motown was bigger than God.

When Moy met with Wonder she asked to hear the songs he was working on, and with the help of producer Hank Cosby the song “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” was born. During the recording session, Moy sang into Wonder’s earphones from the control room ahead of the track. She says “He didn’t miss a beat!” “Uptight” was perfect for Wonder’s voice that changed for the better. It placed him at the top of the charts, and solidified his place among Motown’s finest.

Stevie Wonder and Sylvia Moy (Courtesy Photo)

In addition to her music studies, Moy also sang Opera and was a soloist for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. She also studied a lot of French which influenced one of Wonder’s signature songs “My Cherie Amour.” She says, “That song was recorded long before it was released. It was the “B” side of “Don’t Know Why” which wasn’t doing too well. A DJ began playing the “B” side, and the rest was history.”

In 2006 Moy was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

Here are the lyrics to the song Stevie dedicated to her called “Sylvia” from his 1966 Down To Earth album:

“Sylvia”

Whoa, oh, oh, yeah

Mmm, hmm Sylvia

You know you’re getting to me now

Mmm, mmm, mmm, Sylvia

You gently touched my heart somehow

 

Yesterday you made me happy as a child at play

Just like the summer sun that warms my heart

And move on, now you are gone

 

Whoa, oh, oh, Sylvia

You’re everything that I adore

That sweet song, that caught a spark in me more

Tenderly that’s how you whisper that you loved me

As if a raindrop kissed my ear and disappeared, now you are gone

 

Oh, oh, oh, yeah

You know I love my little Sylvia

 

Whoa, oh, oh, yeah

And yesterday I feel in love with you all the way

Tenderly you lit a spark in my heart, now you are gone

 

Mmm, hmm, Sylvia

I gently miss Sylvia

I’m crazy ’bout ya, Sylvia

You know I love my little Sylvia

“My Cherie Amour”

Categories: Celebration of Life | Entertainment | Music
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