Marv Johnson, the baritone singer credited with creating the Motown sound with Berry Gordy Jr., died May 16 after suffering a stroke at a concert in South Carolina. He was 54.
Johnson collapsed backstage after performing in Sumter, S.C., at a 40th anniversary concert for Bill Pinckney, a member of the original Drifters.
Johnson met Gordy while working in a Detroit record store. In 1959, Johnson recorded “Come to Me,” which was leased to the United Artists label. Although the record was only a modest hit — No. 30 on the pop chart — it was the first of the new Motown songs.
Gordy paired Johnson’s gospel background with a churchy female chorus and a male bass. The result was a new sound with black roots that also appealed to white listeners.
By 1960, the duo had made two top 10 hits, “You Got What It Takes” and “I Love the Way You Love,” and Gordy created his first label, Tamla Records.
Other songs by Johnson include “I’m Comin’ Home,””Ain’t Gonna Be That Way, “”All the Love I Got,””Move Two Mountains,””Happy Days” and “Merry-Go-Round.”
Johnson, a Detroit native, continued touring in the United States and Europe after his recording career tailed off in the early 1970s.
Survived by three children.