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Remembering Sylvia Moy And Her Contributions To R&B

(SOUNDBITE OF MARVIN GAYE AND KIM WESTON SONG, "IT TAKES TWO")

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

This week we're remembering some of the notable people who died this year.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This next name you might not recognize, but she made a lot of music sing - Sylvia Moy. She's the woman behind some of Motown's greatest hits, like this 1966 Marvin Gaye classic "It Takes Two." Moy helped with the lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT TAKES TWO")

MARVIN GAYE AND KIM WESTON: (Singing) It takes two, baby. It takes two, baby - me and you. It just takes two.

SHAPIRO: Sylvia Moy was one of the first female producers at Motown.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SYLVIA MOY: It's hard for women - I'm not going to lie about it - anywhere, but you hang in there.

SHAPIRO: She first joined Motown as a singer and songwriter. Label executives asked her to focus more on writing than singing. They got her to help write for other musicians like this blind musical prodigy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINGERTIPS")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Say yeah.

SHAPIRO: He was known then as little Stevie Wonder.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FINGERTIPS")

WONDER: (Singing) Say yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: Yeah.

WONDER: (Singing) Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED AUDIENCE: Yeah.

WONDER: (Singing) Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SIEGEL: Stevie Wonder was 13 when he recorded the hit "Fingertips." A year later - puberty and a problem for the label.

SHAPIRO: Stevie Wonder talked about that this year on our podcast What's Good With Stretch & Bobbito.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

WONDER: They had this meeting at Motown. They said, you know what? His voice is changing, and things are different. We don't know what to do with this kid. I think we're going to have to let him go.

SIEGEL: You heard that right. Little Stevie Wonder was about to get the boot. That was when Sylvia Moy stepped in.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOY: After the meeting, I said, let this be my assignment. I don't believe it's over for him. Let me have Stevie. I went to him, and I said, I want to hear all of these ditties you're playing (laughter) 'cause they actually had told me, come up with a hit. That hit was "Uptight."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTIGHT")

WONDER: (Singing) I'm a poor man's son from across the railroad tracks. The only shirt I own is hanging on my back. But I'm the envy of every single guy 'cause I'm the apple of my girl's eye.

SHAPIRO: Moy had teamed up with another Motown producer, Henry Cosby, for "Uptight," but there was a snag during the recording process. There wasn't time to transcribe the lyrics into Braille. So Moy sang them into Wonder's headphones while he recorded, careful to stay one line ahead. The result was danceable, singable, an R&B chart-topper.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTIGHT")

WONDER: (Singing) Uptight, out of sight - baby, everything is all right. Uptight, clean out of sight...

SIEGEL: Moy continued to produce more hits for Wonder - "I Was Made To Love Her," "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day," "I'm Wondering" and this one, which was originally named "Oh, My Marsha."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY CHERIE AMOUR")

WONDER: (Singing) My cherie amour, lovely as a summer day - my cherie amour...

SHAPIRO: Sylvia Moy helped make songs sound timeless. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. Moy died in April at the age of 78.

SIEGEL: We heard her tell her story courtesy of the Songwriters Hall of Fame archives.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY CHERIE AMOUR")

WONDER: (Singing) You're the only girl my heart beats for. How I wish that you were mine. In a cafe or sometimes on a crowded... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.