American soul singer Edwin Starr, who produced No. 1 Motown hits such as the fiery “War” in 1970, died on Wednesday at his home near Nottingham, England, apparently of a heart attack, said manager Lilian Kyle. He was 61.
Last year, Starr — a soul shouter from the Motown stable with a style reminiscent of James Brown — performed at the wedding of Liza Minnelli and David Gest in New York.
He also had sung live with Bruce Springsteen.
Born Charles Hatcher in Nashville, Tenn., Starr formed his first group, the Future Tones, in 1957, recording one single before his three-year army service. Afterwards he moved to Detroit; in 1965, he was offered a solo deal following two years of touring with another band.
Early U.S. hits included “Agent Double O-Soul” and “Stop Her on Sight (S.O.S.).”
But Starr was best known for “War,” delivered in his characteristically rough, staccato bursts of singing. Single, released in July 1970, spent 13 weeks on the charts, three at No. 1. Vietnam would provide Starr with his next, and last, hit, “Stop the War Now,” the following January. He continued to appear on the R&B charts during the seventies.
Other top 10 hits included the 1979 disco songs “Contact” and “H.A.P.P.Y. Radio.”
In 1983, he relocated to England where he was well received. Two years later, “War” was resurrected by Bruce Springsteen, including a cover of the song on an album and releasing it as a single with accompanying video. Springsteen revived the song last month, launching his Australian tour with a cover version in response to the U.S. military action against Iraq.
The song remains popular to this day, and current anti-war demonstrators regularly use the song’s chorus (“War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!”) in their chants.
In 1984, Starr recorded a tribute album to Marvin Gaye for England’s Streetwave label.
Starr, who made a brief comeback during the disco craze, later spent most of his time touring Europe on the oldies circuit. He performed as recently as late March in Stuttgart, Germany.
Rainer Haas, promoter of the Stuttgart shows, said: “He played to 16,000 people over the two nights and he put on a great show. The shows were actually recorded for television, so we will have an enduring memory of how brilliant he was live.”
In England, Starr took part in an award-winning BBC radio series on the American Civil Rights movement.
In 1995, he was featured on “Mousercise,” a Walt Disney children’s workout album.