Most people may not know his name but they will know his work. Norman Whitfield is one of the most important producers of R&B/funk/disco due to his imaginative work with Motown and his later disco material. He was originally from Harlem but moved to Detroit as a teenager and started hanging around the Motown studios.
As early as 1963 he was being credited as a songwriter and wrote for Marvin Gaye, The Velvelettes and the Marvelettes ("Too Many Fish In The Sea"). His 1966 breakout hit "Ain't To Proud To Beg" with The Temptations afforded him the role as their primary director and he went on to produce eight of their LPs. "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" (co-written with Barrett Strong) has been a hit several times over with Gaye, Gladys Knight, Creedence Clearwater Revival and others.
Starting around 1968 Whitfield brought an explicit Sly Stone influence into the music and creating "psychedelic soul". Indeed, forthcoming productions would show a strong Funkadelic, Jimi Hendrix, funk & rock influence, with topical & anti-war lyrics and some tasty wah-wah guitar from Dennis Coffey. "Papa Was A Rolling Stone" is about as fine as an example of how his recipe could make a massively popular tune. Edwin Starr's "War" was another great one with long-lasting impact, as well as his personal pet project The Undisputed Truth ("Smilin' Faces Sometimes"). His songs got longer and with more studio effects and impressive arrangements. Eventually he broke up with The Temptations due to them getting less say in their presentation.
He left Motown in '73 to start his own Whitfield Records, taking the Undisputed Truth with him. (Willie Hutch and Junior Walker followed later). He also produced Rose Royce, who found a major hit with Car Wash. Whitfield worked on the soundtrack to that movie and others, including working with Stargard. He returned to Motown in the early '80s. In addition to those already mentioned he also produced records by Jackson 5, Rare Earth, The Miracles, The Supremes, David Ruffin, Isley Bros, Mary Wells, Four Tops, Yvonne Fair and the Pointer Sisters. In all he worked on over 100 hit songs.