Harvey Fuqua (1929-2010): The Epitome of Success without Fame
Yesterday, Harvey Fuqua, 2000 inductee of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, passed away at age 80. In the midst of a day and age when many prominent members of the black music community are dying young (Guru, 47; MJ, 50; Marvin Isley, 56; Teddy Pendergrass, 59, etc.) for someone as accomplished as was Fuqua to achieve this kind of longevity is getting rarer as the years go by. However living to old age doesn’t prevent Fuqua to suffer the same poor perspective that the rest of our artists receive in the media following their passing. This is due to a myriad of reasons, one of them being his skin color and the other his lack of infamy or “celebrity” appeal; the latter I’m sure helped to extend his life considerably.
Just this morning, an AOL link to an obituary mentioned him primarily as a former mentor of Marvin Gaye. The media has a familiar way of only capturing aspects of a departed musician’s life as it directly deals with the mainstream, therefore his connection with Gaye is mostly highlighted. I’m sure later in the day his affiliation with his group The Moonglows will also be covered but little else. Fuqua fulfilled a long list of achievements in his life that most in the music industry never reach. Aside from founding the Moonglows and recording hits like “Ten Commandments of Love,” Fuqua was on the ground floor of Anna Records, which distributed the Berry Gordy penned hit, “Money (That’s What I Want).” Anna Records was acquired by Gordy and later become the foundation for Motown Records. At Motown, he was a director of Artist Development and a songwriter. He’s responsible for recruiting acts like The Spinners, Jr. Walker & the All-Stars and Tammi Terrell.
In the 1970’s, Fuqua’s good touch with artists continued, acting the primary producer of the band The New Birth, whom he had hits with “Dream Merchant,” “Wildflower” and others. He also discovered and produced disco maven Sylvester, being responsible for guiding classics like “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real).” In 1982, after his bitter departure with Motown, Marvin Gaye reached out to his old mentor Fuqua to produce his first album for CBS Records. That album was Midnight Love, which not only included the smash “Sexual Healing,” but also one of the first to utilize the Roland-808 drum machine that would become a cornerstone for hip-hop production for 20 years.
Because Fuqua was largely in the background, he is not as highly regarded in the mainstream annals of fame with his contemporaries like Gaye, Gordy, Leonard Chess or others. I believe this is, in a way, a wonderful example of something that gets lost in artists and would-be moguls today: You don’t have to be famous to be successful, especially in the music business. Many think that you have to have your name on the marquee of Madison Square Garden, your song has to be number 1 on the Billboard 100, or worse, be “martyred” in prison (Lil Wayne, T.I., etc.) to be considered “making it.” Well, Fuqua didn’t need to sing on massive pop singles, be seen with numerous, disposable females, or got caught up in drugs from cocaine to “purple drank,” and he still made it, and “it” is a legacy. A legacy of timeless music and innovative artist scouting and nurturing that’s missing in today’s popular music landscape. As we’re evolving in a time when indie singers and bands are gaining momentum as the chief creators of relevant music, Fuqua’s influence is not as detached as it may seem. Rest in Peace, Harvey Fuqua. I’ll pray for you and your family.