Gil Askey

Arranger for top Motown acts


Gil Askey, 89, a trumpeter, conductor and arranger for top Motown acts, including the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops, died April 9 in Melbourne, Australia. He had lymphoma, according to his family.

Askey's work with Motown began in 1965 when he was hired to produce and arrange several tracks on Billy Eckstine's "Prime of My Life."

Motown founder Berry Gordon later assigned Askey to work with the Supremes. He produced "The Supremes Sing Rodgers & Hart," a 1967 album of show tunes, and was musical director for their live shows.

"A gifted musician and a natural entertainer, Gil was indispensable both on and off stage. He not only wrote the Supremes' arrangements but was the glue that held that entire show together," Gordy wrote in his 2013 autobiography "To Be Loved," about Motown's first international concert tour in Europe in 1968, which included the Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and the Temptations.

Askey also produced the Supremes' last concert in 1970 before lead singer Diana Ross left the group for a solo career. He earned an Oscar nomination for arranging the music for "Lady Sings the Blues," the 1972 film starring Ross as jazz singer Billie Holiday.

Born March 9, 1925, in Austin, Texas, Askey served in the Army Special Services Band during World War II. After the war, he played trumpet in the Milton Larkin Orchestra in Houston and the Buddy Johnson Band. Later he backed acts such as Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, the Platters, the Clovers and Jackie Wilson.

In 1980 he married an Australian woman and moved to Melbourne, where he taught music. He returned to the U.S. in 1983 to help produced Motown's 25th anniversary TV special and tour.

Times staff reports