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Northern Soul Legend Edwin Starr

Most of you will know or have heard Edwin Starr from his worldwide hit, “War” (what is it good for?). But Edwin Starr’s legacy as a musician goes much further.

Born in Tennessee as Charles Hatcher, and raised in Ohio, Starr eventually moved to Detroit where he recorded his first hit, “Agent Double O Soul”. At first Edwin Starr was signed to the small Ric Tic label in Detroit, which served as an early competitor to Motown, and which remains as one of the most treasured record labels in the Northern Soul scene. When Ric Tic essentially became part of Motown in 1968, Starr began to record and release under the label.

As a musician, Edwin Starr’s heroes would likely have been James Brown and other southern soul artists from around the same time. This left its impact on Starr’s vocal style and his clear dedication to the rhythms and styles of Soul and Funk music. In 1974, he even recorded for the soundtrack of the blaxploitation

film “Hell up in Harlem”, which was the sequel to “Black Caesar”, a film that had its soundtrack performed by James Brown himself.

For Northern Soul fanatics, “Back Street” also remains a classic record in Starr’s catalogue, as did “Headline News”, which led to them both being reissued in the UK in the early 70s. The song that Edwin Starr is most famous for, however, is “War”, released in 1970 under Motown’s Gordy imprint. However, Starr’s version of war is not the first, with it being a cover of an album track from label-mates The Temptations’ Psychedelic Shack record. The version he recorded with his own distinctive impression, nonetheless made a far larger impact than the original version of the song. It remains one of the most potent and significant anti-war songs, released in the era of the Vietnam War, yet retaining its message until the present day.

Along with his following in the Northern Soul scene in the UK, Edwin Starr also moved to England in 1973, where he would remain until his death in 2003. In the decade that followed his emigration from the States, Starr had a few more minor chart hits, before becoming a top recording artist as part of the disco boom of the mid to late 1970s. Nonetheless, despite a drop in sales and commercial appeal, he remained a legend on Northern Soul nights and in dance clubs.

Credit: Harry Goodwin / Redferns
Agency: Redferns


In the mid 1980s, Starr took part in the charity campaign Ferry Aid, which led to him being signed with Virgin records and working with the successful trio, Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Later, in 1989, Edwin Starr joined Motorcity Records, set up by songwriter and producer Ian Levine, which aimed to record music by classic artists that had appeared on the Motown label in the years before. In the 1990s and 2000s, Starr continued to record and perform, and appeared on collaborations with other artists. One of these was, notably, a song that he recorded with Jools Holland on his album “More Friends”.

On April 2nd, 2003, Edwin Starr sadly passed away from a heart attack in Chilwell, Nottinghamshire. Following his death, Starr’s cult status and widespread appreciation lived on, as he was among the first members to be inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Michigan Rock an Roll Legends Hall of Fame in 2017.

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