Frank Wilson dies at 71; Motown writer, producer
Motown’s Frank Wilson wrote and produced hit records for such big names as the Supremes and the Temptations, but he was best known for a single recorded in Los Angeles that featured his own voice — and was never released.
Copies of his “Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)” had already been pressed in 1965 when Motown founder Berry Gordy asked him to choose between being a performer or writer-producer, Wilson’s family said. When he decided on the latter, almost all of the singles were destroyed.
After the record mysteriously jumped across the Atlantic in the 1970s, it became an underground sensation in Britain and a prized collectible: A rare copy of “Do I Love You” sold in 2009 for $39,294, making it the most expensive music single sold at auction, according to Guinness World Records.
Wilson, who left Motown in the late 1970s to become a minister, died Thursday at City of Hope in Duarte. The Pasadena resident was 71.
The cause was complications from a lung infection, said a daughter, Tracey Stein. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer several years ago.
He joined Motown in 1964 soon after the Detroit-based record label opened a West Coast office in Los Angeles and helped produce a hit that year for Stevie Wonder, “Castles in the Sand.”
The long list of popular songs that Wilson either wrote or co-wrote includes the 1968 hits “Love Child” for Diana Ross and the Supremes, “Chained” for Marvin Gaye and “All I Need” for the Temptations. After Eddie Kendricks left the Temptations, Wilson produced “Keep On Truckin’ (Part 1),” which reached No. 1 on the Billboard pop charts in 1973.
Wilson also helped write “You’ve Made Me So Very Happy,” a 1967 Top 40 single for Motown’s Brenda Holloway that soon became an even bigger hit for Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Assigned to produce the Supremes’ first album without Diana Ross, Wilson co-wrote “Up the Ladder to the Roof,” which was a No. 10 single in 1969 for the newly configured group. Such Wilson-produced hits as “Everybody’s Got the Right to Love” and “Stoned Love” followed in 1970 for the Supremes.
When the Los Angeles outpost of Motown was shut down after a couple of years, Gordy brought Wilson to Detroit in 1966. A decade later, the Baptist-raised Wilson recognized a “huge spiritual void” in his life and decided to largely leave the recording business behind.
“I just had a one-track mind and that was making the next number one record,” Wilson told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1995. “It took God to make me realize there was more to life than music.”
He served as a personal pastor to Motown entertainers, attended Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena and devoted the rest of his life to social and evangelical projects. They included a role as minister of a Christian fellowship for entertainers and the 2004 founding of another fellowship, New Dawn Christian Village, in downtown Los Angeles.
Frank Edward Wilson was born Dec. 5, 1940, in Houston, the third of six children of James Wilson and the former Samantha Gibbs. His maternal grandfather was a minister, as were several uncles.
His mother was a domestic who taught young Frank to play the piano by ear, and he began performing with his singing uncles, the Gibbs Five.
After studying at Southern University of Baton Rouge for about 18 months, Wilson left to pursue a music career in Los Angeles.
He was singing with a gospel group, the Angelaires, when he was inspired by Holloway’s voice to start writing secular music, Wilson said in the 2001 book “Motown: The Golden Years.”
Wilson never knew how his danceable Motown single “Do I Love You” ended up storming England’s Northern soul scene. According to one imprecise account, the disc had been “borrowed” from Motown vaults in Los Angeles, “never put back, and found its way to England,” John Manship, who organized the 2009 sale of the single, said in a BBC interview.
For his part, Wilson told the British press in 2001: “I was unaware that this record still existed. A Motown boss ordered all the masters to be destroyed. Somehow, a copy surfaced in Britain. I consider it one of my life’s great achievements.”
His first wife, singer Barbara Jean Dedmon, died at 23 when their only child, Tracey, was 2. He later had a son from a relationship. With his wife of 42 years, P. Bunny Wilson, he had four children. In addition to his wife and children, Wilson is survived by six grandchildren; a sister; and three brothers.
Services are at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Faithful Central Bible Church’s Tabernacle, 321 N. Eucalyptus Ave., Inglewood.
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