Harvey Fuqua, one of the major behind-the-scenes figures in the history of rhythm and blues, died in a Detroit hospital on Tuesday, July 6. He was 80.
During a musical career that spanned six decades, Fuqua was the lead baritone vocalist with the Moonglows and mentor to and/or producer of such artists as Marvin Gaye, Etta James, the Spinners, Jr. Walker and the All Stars, Tammi Terrell, David Ruffin, Stevie Wonder, New Birth and Sylvester. His hit compositions include “Sincerely,” “That’s What Girls Are Made For” and “Someday We’ll Be Together.”
“He had the eyes and ears for spotting a great artist a mile away,” said Terri Hinte, a publicist who worked with Fuqua in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when he was living in Oakland and producing Sylvester and others. “It wasn’t just a matter of getting an artist who could make it on a record. Nothing was going to happen beyond that if the artist wasn’t good on stage and didn’t have the whole tool kit in place.”
The Moonglows, circa 1959: Harvey Fuqua, bottom center; Marvin Gaye, second from right.
Born on July 27, 1929, in Louisville, Kentucky, Fuqua began his recording career in 1952 on the Cleveland, Ohio-based Champagne label with the Moonglows, a doo-wop group managed by and named after pioneering rock ‘n’ roll disc jockey Alan “Moondog” Freed. After moving to Chicago and recording for Chance Records, the Moonglows signed with the larger Chess label and recorded “Sincerely,” a Fugua-Freed composition that became a massive pop hit when “covered” by the McGuire Sisters.
Fuqua picked up the essentials of record production by watching Leonard Chess and engineer Ron Malo operate the company’s one-track tape machine and adjust the levels by moving the singers and instrumentalist around the studio.
“We didn’t call it ‘producing’ back then,” he told this writer in 1981. “We called it ‘getting your s— together.’”
In the late ‘50s, Fuqua recorded two duets with his then-girlfriend, Etta James. She had been singing mostly blues and rock ‘n’ roll before he began helping her work up modern arrangements of such old pop tunes as “At Last” and “A Sunday Kind of Love” while they were living together at the Cecil Hotel in Harlem. His influence changed the course of her career.
A later edition of the Moonglows included teenage vocalist Marvin Gaye, and after the group broke up in 1960, both Fuqua and Gaye moved to Detroit. Fuqua married Berry Gordy Jr.’s sister Gwen. Gaye married her sister Anna. In 1982, after the two marriages had ended, Fuqua got back together with Gaye to help him record his comeback smash, “Sexual Healing.”
Harvey and Gwen Fuqua ran their own Tri-Phi and Harvey labels in the early ‘60s, then merged with Motown, were he worked in promotion, ran the company’s artist development department and produced hits for Walker, Gaye and Terrell, Ruffin, Wonder and others of the remainder for the decade. Even after leaving Motown, he remained close to some of his old cohorts, especially Smokey Robinson, for whom he worked as a light man in recent years.
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