WCSU

Remembering Sylvia Moy, Pioneering Motown Songwriter And Producer

Apr 19, 2017
Originally published on April 20, 2017 7:31 am

Sylvia Moy was one of the first female producers at Detroit's legendary Motown Records, co-writing hits for artists like Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and The Isley Brothers. Moy died on Saturday at age 78 in Dearborn, Michigan from complications of pneumonia.

Moy started at Motown not long after a young phenomenon named Little Stevie Wonder hit No. 1 on the Billboard chart. But after he hit puberty, Wonder struggled to stay in the spotlight. It was Moy who reportedly convinced Motown executive Berry Gordy to keep the teenager on contract.

As a songwriter, she wrote for artists like Marvin Gaye and the Isley Brothers. But her most notable creative partnership was with Stevie Wonder. She co-wrote a number of his hits, including "Uptight (Everything's Alright)" and "My Cherie Amour." In 2010, Wonder explained to television host Larry King how Moy even gave "Cherie Amour" its name:

In a statement to Rolling Stone magazine after her death, Stevie Wonder wrote: "Sylvia Moy has made it possible to enrich my world of songs with some of the greatest lyrics. But, not only that, she, through her participation and our co-writing those songs, helped me become a far better writer of lyrics."

Moy was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006; the ceremony featured a surprise performance by Wonder.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

This morning, we're going to remember the woman behind some of Motown's biggest hits. She died last week at the age of 78 years old. Sylvia Moy started out as a singer but she found her niche as a songwriter and producer, one of the only female producers at Motown Records.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UPTIGHT - EVERYTHING'S ALRIGHT")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) Baby, everything is all right. Uptight, out of sight. Baby, everything is all right. Uptight, out of sight.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And this is an amazing story about Sylvia Moy. She began work at Motown not long after a young phenomenon named Little Stevie Wonder hit number one on the Billboard chart. But after Little Stevie Wonder's voice changed, he struggled to stay in the spotlight. And when Motown was tempted to drop him, it was Moy who reportedly convinced the label to keep his contract.

GREENE: And she took his career into the stratosphere, co-writing a string of hits including "Uptight - Everything's Alright" and "My Cherie Amour."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY CHERIE AMOUR")

STEVIE WONDER: (Singing) My cherie amour, lovely as a summer day. My cherie amour, distant as the Milky Way.

INSKEEP: And it was Sylvia Moy who gave that song its name, as Stevie Wonder told CNN host Larry King in 2010.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "LARRY KING LIVE")

LARRY KING: What a beautiful song. Where'd that come from?

STEVIE WONDER: It was a song that was originally called "Oh My Marsha" (vocalizing).

KING: So why'd you change it?

STEVIE WONDER: Marsha and I broke up.

(LAUGHTER)

STEVIE WONDER: And so the lyricist, Sylvia Moy, wrote "My Cherie Amour." Sorry, Marsha.

GREENE: Sylvia also co-wrote songs for The Isley Brothers, also for Marvin Gaye. She was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006.

(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. It takes two, baby. It takes two, baby - make a dream come true. It just takes two. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.