Sylvia Moy, a Motown songwriter and producer who collaborated with Stevie Wonder on “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” and “My Cherie Amour,” and who was a co-writer of hits for the Marvin Gaye-Kim Weston duet and the Isley Brothers, died on Saturday in Dearborn, Mich. She was 78.
Her sister Anita Moy said that the cause was complications of pneumonia.
Sylvia Moy’s arrival at Motown in 1964 coincided with the company’s concerns about the future of Mr. Wonder’s career. A year earlier, “Fingertips Pt. 2,” a mostly instrumental number that showcased the 13-year-old prodigy’s virtuosity on the harmonica, reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and R&B charts.
But his subsequent recordings were not as successful, and Motown executives were uncertain what to do with him as he grew into adulthood.
“There was an announcement in a meeting that Stevie’s voice had changed, and they didn’t know exactly how to handle that,” Ms. Moy said in an interview after her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. “They asked for volunteers. None of the guys would volunteer. They were going to have to let him go.”
Whether Berry Gordy Jr., Motown’s founder and patriarch, would have released an artist as talented as Mr. Wonder is debatable. But Mr. Gordy did not have to make the decision. After the meeting, Ms. Moy beseeched Mickey Stevenson, the head of artists and repertoire at Motown, to give her a chance to work with Mr. Wonder.
“Let this be my assignment,” she said she told Mr. Stevenson. “I don’t believe it’s over for him. Let me have Stevie.”
She said that she asked Mr. Wonder to play some of the “ditties” he had been working on, but she heard nothing that sounded like a hit. Then, as she was leaving, he played one final snippet of music for her and sang, “Baby, everything is all right.” There wasn’t much more, she recalled, and she told him that she would take it home and work on the melody and lyrics.
With the songwriting help of Henry Cosby, a Motown producer, “Uptight” was completed.
In the recording studio, though, there was no transcription of the lyrics into Braille for Mr. Wonder to read from. So Ms. Moy sang the words to him through his earphones.
“I would stay a line ahead of him and we didn’t miss a beat,” she said in a video interview in 2014 with Michelle Wilson, an independent producer based in Virginia Beach.
CreditL. Busacca/WireImage for Songwriter’s Hall of Fame
“It’s certainly true that Sylvia found his sweet spot with the material,” Adam White, who wrote the book “Motown: The Sound of Young America” (2016) with the longtime Motown executive Barney Ales, said in a telephone interview. “She brought a fresh approach, a musical discipline and a rapport that produced songs of a high caliber.”
“Uptight” topped the R&B chart and rose to No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot 100. It also led to further work for Ms. Moy with Mr. Wonder and Mr. Cosby on songs like “My Cherie Amour” (1969), “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby” (1966) and “I Was Made to Love Her” (1967), which included Mr. Wonder’s mother, Lula Mae Hardaway, as a co-writer. Ms. Moy said that Mr. Wonder’s title for “My Cherie Amour” had been “Oh, My Marcia,” but she gave it a French twist.
She also collaborated with Mr. Stevenson on “It Takes Two,” recorded by Mr. Gaye and Ms. Weston, which reached No. 14 on the Hot 100 in 1967. She wrote “This Old Heart of Mine,” a No. 12 hit for the Isley Brothers in 1966, with Lamont Dozier and Brian and Eddie Holland, one of Motown’s most prolific songwriting teams.
Sylvia Rose Moy was born on Sept. 15, 1938, in Detroit, where, she told The Detroit Free Press, she “played the piano on the radiator and made musical instruments out of food boxes.” She told Mr. White that her father, Melvin, an appliance repairman, and her mother, the former Hazel Redgell, a homemaker, were the inspirations for “I Was Made to Love Her.”
After high school, Ms. Moy traveled to New York City to promote her songs but found no takers. One rejection from a record company executive stuck to her for decades. “You’re not a bad singer, but I want to give you some advice you can use for the rest of your life,” she recalled him telling her, “You will never be a songwriter.”
(Years later, she said, the same executive asked Mr. Gordy if he could buy out her songwriting contract at Motown.)
When Ms. Moy returned home to Detroit, she sang at the Caucus Club, where Mr. Gaye and Mr. Stevenson invited her to Motown. The label signed her to recording, management and songwriter contracts.
The songs that had been spurned in New York were welcomed at Motown. But she was told that singing would have to wait; songwriting took precedence. She also produced records at Motown, making her its second notable woman producer after Mr. Gordy’s second wife, Raynoma Gordy Singleton, who died last year.
Ms. Moy left Motown in 1973 when the company moved to Los Angeles and signed with 20th Century Records as a singer, songwriter and producer. She also worked as a mentor to young people interested in the arts.
In addition to her sister Anita, she is survived by four other sisters, Angel Moy-Adams, Celeste Moy-Street, Francetta Moy-Johnson and Merrill Moy-Thompson, and two brothers, Melvin and Christopher. She never married and had no children, Anita Moy said.
At Ms. Moy’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wonder sang “My Cherie Amour.” In an interview afterward, he praised her for finding “unique ways to take the melodies I wrote and putting them into a lyric that was incredible, that touched many hearts.”