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Sylvia Moy, Motown Songwriter and Producer, Dies

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Sylvia Moy, who was part of Motown’s famed staff of writers and producer during its ’60s heyday, has died. She was 78.

The news was reported by the Detroit Free Press, adding that the cause of death was complications from pneumonia. She died at the Beaumont (Oakwood) Hospital in Dearborn, Mich.

Born in Detroit on Sept. 15, 1938, she was discovered singing in a local nightclub by Marvin Gaye and songwriter Mickey Stevenson, who brought her to the label. She was signed to a deal that allowed her to perform as well as write, a rarity for a woman.

“She broke that glass ceiling for women in the music industry,” her brother Melvin told the Free Press. “In the ’60s, women weren’t encouraged to play instruments, let alone be producers.”

However, her recording career never got beyond the contract. Due to a short supply of songs for their artists, she was put to work immediately as a writer. At the time, Stevie Wonder was having a difficult time following up his first hit, “Fingertips,” and Motown was considering dropping the teenager, whose voice had just changed. Moy pleaded with the label for a chance to work with him, and, with Henry Cosby, the three of them wrote “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” which topped Billboard‘s R&B chart and peaked at No. 3 on the Hot 100. Wonder, and Moy, never looked back.

Moy would be most closely associated with Wonder, co-writing “I Was Made to Love Her,” “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day,” “My Cherie Amour” and “Never Had a Dream Come True.” But she was responsible for several other Motown hits, including the Isley Brothers‘ “This Old Heart of Mine” and the Marvin Gaye-Kim Weston duet, “It Takes Two.”

“Stevie gets an awful lot of credit, but as far as I’m concerned, she was the beginning of so many of those songs,” Cosby’s widow Pat said. “Between the three of them, Sylvia with her imaginative mind was just [groundbreaking]. If she were a man instead of a woman, there would have been a lot more you’d have heard from her. But once her work became known, the resistance waned away, and the producers started looking at her differently and could see the value of what she was trying to do.”

After leaving Motown, she went on to found the Center for Creative Communications, which works with underprivileged children in Detroit. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

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