Sylvia Moy, the Motown songwriter who helped pen Stevie Wonder hits like “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “My Cherie Amour,” died Saturday at the age of 78.
Moy’s sister Anita told the Detroit Free Press that the producer-songwriter died at a Dearborn, Michigan hospital of apparent complications from pneumonia.
Marvin Gaye, then a Motown artist, discovered Moy while she was singing at a Detroit club in 1963. The label signed Moy to a dual songwriting/performing deal, although her talents were largely focused on penning songs for Motown’s stable of artists, which included Little Stevie Wonder.
“Motown came forth with a recording contract for me, a management contract and a songwriter’s contract — which shocked me,” Moy told the Free Press in 2016. “Then I was told, ‘Sylvia, we’ll get to you as a singer. But in the meantime, we’ve got all these artists and they have no material. You’re going to have to write.’ I said OK. Because I was kind of shy anyway. And so that’s what I started doing. I got into it, and the hits started coming.”
A year after a 13-year-old Wonder topped the Hot 100 with “Fingertips” in 1963 – the youngest artist ever to accomplish that feat – the singer struggled to record another hit, and as his voice began to change, Motown’s Berry Gordy debated terminating Wonder’s recording contract. It was Moy who is credited with persuading Gordy to keep Wonder.
After dropping the “Little” from his name, Wonder, Moy and songwriter Henry Cosby teamed to write 1965’s “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” which quickly became a hit for Motown’s Tamla label and Wonder’s first hit as a songwriter (even though he, at the time, credited his contribution as “S. Judkins,” a nod to his father).
The resulting album, 1966’s Up-Tight, also featured “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby,” another track penned by the Wonder/Moy/Cosby team.
Over the next three years, Wonder, Moy and Cosby partnered for a string of Hot 100 hits like “I Was Made to Love Her,” “Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day,” “I’m Wondering,” “My Cherie Amour” and Signed, Sealed & Delivered‘s “Never Had a Dream Come True,” the final track the trio co-wrote together; a year later, the Jackson 5 covered the track.
In 2006, when Moy was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Wonder made a surprise appearance at the ceremony to perform “Uptight” for his former collaborator.
In addition to Moy’s work with Wonder, she also co-wrote Motown/Tamla classics like Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston’s “It Takes Two,” the Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” (a collaboration between Moy and the legendary Holland-Dozier-Holland tandem) and Martha and the Vandellas’ “Honey Chile.”
After her tenure at a Motown songwriter, Moy remained in her native Detroit to mentor schoolchildren in the arts and operate her own recording studio. In recent years, Moy founded the Center for Creative Communications, which worked with underprivileged Detroit children.