Richard Griffey dies at 71; founder of R&B record label Solar
Richard “Dick” Griffey, founder of the Los Angeles-based R&B record label Solar, which was once touted as “the Motown of the ‘80s,” has died. He was 71.
Griffey died Friday at a Canoga Park rehabilitation center of complications from quadruple-bypass heart surgery that he underwent last year, said his daughter, Regina Hughes.
In a statement, Grammy-winning producer Quincy Jones said, “Dick Griffey was one of the great pioneering executives in the music business, whose fingerprints were on some of the biggest R&B hits of the ‘80s.”
Established in the 1970s as an outgrowth of the TV variety show “Soul Train,” Griffey named the label Solar, an acronym for Sounds of Los Angeles Records, when he took charge of it about 1978.
By 1980, two singles by two influential Solar acts — the Whispers’ “And the Beat Goes On” and Shalamar’s “The Second Time Around” — had topped the soul music charts and crossed over into the pop market.
Such success led the music press to call Griffey “the most promising new black music executive,” The Times reported in 1980.
Industry observers compared his hit-making strategy for black music acts to that of the groundbreaking Motown Records. Griffey created an in-house stable of songwriters and producers and took the time to mentor and develop talent.
“We did a lot of nurturing,” Griffey told Billboard magazine in 1997. “Because we were a smaller shop, we didn’t dismiss an act out of hand if they didn’t make the chart.”
As a producer and songwriter of “And the Beat Goes On,” Griffey helped craft a song for the Whispers that became something of an anthem for a generation of blacks.
As of the late 1980s, the company’s most valuable asset may have been the producing-songwriting team of Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, who were members of the R&B group the Deele and went on to become major hit makers.
Richard Gilbert Griffey was born Nov. 16, 1938, in Nashville into a musical family. He was raised by his mother, Juanita Hines, and stepfather.
At Tennessee State University, Griffey showed promise as a drummer but dropped out after several months because “he wanted to live life not read about it,” according to his daughter.
He joined the Navy as a corpsman, delivering medical care for four years. Afterward, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a private nurse.
In the mid-1960s, Griffey co-owned a nightclub in South Los Angeles and learned to book acts.
Eventually, he branched into concert promotion and quickly became the city’s “Kingpin of Soul Promoters,” according to a 1973 Times headline. He promoted domestic and international tours for Stevie Wonder, the Jacksons and many others.
“Professionally, I could not talk about my life without there being a chapter on how Dick Griffey, as a promoter, helped build my career,” Wonder said in a statement.
As a talent coordinator for “Soul Train” in the 1970s, Griffey worked with Don Cornelius, who produced and hosted the show. They started what became Solar, which remained in business for nearly 30 years.
Most of the last 10 years of Griffey’s life were spent in Africa, where he went to promote music but stayed because he “was touched by the poverty and felt that he could make a difference,” his daughter said.
His many humanitarian projects included building a school of music for girls in Ghana that he named for his mother.
“He was dynamic,” his daughter said, “and always said, ‘Don’t let anyone tell you what you can or cannot do.’ ”
Besides his daughter, Regina, Griffey is survived by Carrie Lucas, a singer whom he married in 1974; three other children, Carolyn, Lucas and Che; five grandchildren; and Haile Williams, whom he took in as a teenager and raised as his son.
Services will be private.