Lamont Dozier, Motown songwriter for Supremes, Four Tops, dies at age 81

·8 min read

Lamont Dozier, who helped write and produce songs “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Heat Wave” and dozens of other hits and helped make Motown an essential record company of the 1960s and beyond, died Monday at 81.

The "devoted father and legendary songwriter, producer and recording artist, died peacefully in his home," his family said in a statement to USA TODAY, provided by his rep Jo-Ann Geffen Tuesday.

The statement continued, "He was preceded in death by his wife of 40 years, Barbara Ullman Dozier and is survived by his children and two grandchildren."

"We love him dearly and will miss him always," Dozier's family expressed.

The cause of death has not been determined, and an autopsy will be conducted, a spokeswoman told Detroit Free Press, part of the USA TODAY network.

Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier has died at age 81.
Motown songwriter Lamont Dozier has died at age 81.

'Each day is a gift': Diana Ross, Berry Gordy mourn death of Supremes co-founder Mary Wilson

Dozier's longtime songwriting partner Eddie Holland said he had not been well for several years. He knew his old friend was in a downturn when he could no longer endure long airplane flights.

"The fact of the matter is, when his wife, Barbara, died, it just took a lot out of him," Holland told the Free Press Tuesday.

Still, word of Dozier's death "is like a shock," he said. "I still haven't processed it yet."

Born in 1941 in Detroit, Dozier initially aspired to a singing career, signing with the Gordy family’s Anna Records in 1960. He linked up with Berry Gordy’s fledgling Motown operation the following year, becoming a Motown Records songwriter alongside brothers Brian and Eddie Holland.

Motown Records was a hit machine. Here are the 50 greatest Motown hits from the Detroit era

The polish of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting trio was ideally suited for Motown’s signature act, Diana Ross and the Supremes, for whom they wrote 10 No. 1 songs including "Baby Love," "You Can't Hurry Love" and "Where Did Our Love Go."

Dozier and the Holland brothers also wrote singles for The Four Tops, Martha and the Vandellas, The Isley Brothers and more well-known artists.

Their continued success earned them a spot in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They also received inductions from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

"We were as surprised as anybody else when we came up with so many songs," Dozier told The Guardian in 2015 of working with the Holland brothers. "The songs just kept coming. It was like a blessing from God, but there was a lot of hard work involved."

Songwriters Hall of Fame 2022 class: Mariah Carey, Eurythmics, the Isley Brothers, more

The Motown songwriter also discussed his ability to tap into women's emotions during a time of a lot of sexism within the music industry.

"Women bought the records, to put it bluntly," Dozier said, adding, "They wanted music that talked about their feelings, but also … women raised me."

The Grammy winner added: "My father wasn’t around and I was brought up by my grandmother. I trusted women, and I still do. I have women running my business."

H-D-H weren’t above formulas or closely repeating a previous hit, but they worked in various moods and styles: the casual joy of “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” the escalating desire of “Heat Wave,” the urgency of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There).” Dozier’s focus was on melody and arrangements, whether the haunting echoes of the Vandellas’ backing vocals on “Nowhere To Run,” flashing lights of guitar that drive the Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On,” or the hypnotic gospel piano on Gaye’s “Can I Get a Witness.”

“All the songs started out as slow ballads, but when we were in the studio we’d pick up the tempo,” Dozier told the Guardian in 2001. “The songs had to be fast because they were for teenagers - otherwise it would have been more like something for your parents. The emotion was still there, it was just under cover of the optimism that you got from the up-tempo beat.”

'We are in awe of Dolly': Rock & Roll Hall of Fame won't pull Dolly Parton from ballot

The prime of H-D-H, and of Motown, ended in 1968 amid questions and legal disputes over royalties and other issues. H-D-H left the label, and neither side would recover. The Four Tops and the Supremes were among the acts who suffered from no longer having their most dependable writers. Meanwhile, H-D-H’s efforts to start their own business fell far short of Motown. The labels Invictus and Hot Wax both faded within a few years, and Dozier would recall with disbelief the Hollands’ turning down such future superstars as Al Green and George Clinton. H-D-H did release several hits, including Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” and Honey Cone’s “Want Ads.”

Dozier was gentle-natured but ambitious, heading to Los Angeles in 1973 to pursue a career as a solo artist. While he’d later recount that stepping into the spotlight was “a big challenge,” he scored several minor R&B hits, including “Trying to Hold on to My Woman” and “Fish Ain’t Bitin’.”

Dozier separately earned critical acclaim for his song "Two Hearts," co-written and sung by Phil Collins for the soundtrack to the 1988 British romantic comedy "Buster." He won best original song at the Golden Globes and best song written specifically for a motion picture or television at the Grammys for the collaboration.

H-D-H reunited for a stage production of “The First Wives Club,” which premiered in 2009, but their time back together was brief and unhappy. Dozier and the Hollands clashed often and Dozier dropped out before the show launched. “I can’t see us ever working with Lamont again,” Eddie Holland wrote in “Come and Get These Memories,” a memoir by the Hollands that came out in 2019, the same year Dozier published the memoir “How Sweet It Is.”

William 'Poogie' Hart: Grammy-winning Delfonics singer, dies at 77

In a tribute to the artist, producer Brandon Williams tweeted, "Another man that sat down and taught me a lot about music is gone. The great Lamont Dozier."

"I'll never forget meeting and working with him along with the Holland Brothers in 2006," Williams continued. "Thank you for all you did for me and for the world at large. You definitely made this place better."

"Another family member gone," Smokey Robinson told the Free Press Tuesday. "We will miss him, really miss him."

"Lamont was a brilliant arranger and producer who balanced the talents of the great Eddie and Brian Holland, helping to pull it all together," Motown Records founder Berry Gordy told the Free Press. "Lamont was a good friend and will be missed by the entire Motown family."

Turkessa Babich, daughter of the late Mary Wilson of the Supremes, told the Free Press that Dozier "was not only one of Mom’s dearest friends but considered him family."

"I can remember Mom jokingly telling us about how he tried to convince her that he wrote 'Where Did Our Love Go' especially for them, but Mom knew that another group had already passed on it, and told him so," Babich recalled. "She recalled that she didn’t really care for it at first, because she felt they were too young for that kind of song, but it eventually grew on her. I guess it grew on the world as well since it became their first No. 1 hit."

Babich added:  "We will always have his beautiful music and memories."

Rolling Stones' Ronnie Wood tweeted, "Ah ~ God Bless Lamont his music will live on."

On the heels of a 2018 solo album, "Reimagination," Dozier told the Free Press he still sat at a piano for several hours daily, seven days a week, coming up with new musical ideas.

"This has always been my job," Dozier said. "I have to do it. If you don’t use it, you lose it. So I work hard. It’s a good thing and it’s healthy for your mind."

He said he never took for granted the endurance of his work.

"They still play that music, man. It’s amazing," Dozier said. "I thought some of it wouldn’t last a day. But it’s been here for 60 years, and that’s a great feeling — all over the world."

Dozier acknowledged that his early success conflicted with his family life, but he eventually settled down with Barbara Ullman, who died in 2021 after more than 40 years of marriage. His children with Ullman included the songwriter-record producer Beau Dozier and composer Paris Ray Dozier.

Contributing: Hillel Italie, The Associated Press; Brian McCollum, Detroit Free Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lamont Dozier dead: Motown hitmaker wrote Supremes' 'Baby Love'