The singer born as Charles Edwin Hatcher quickly earned his stage name ‘Starr.’ Known for his James Brown-esque style, Edwin Starr found himself at Motown after his original label, Ric-Tic, was absorbed by Motown in 1968. Already an established performer, he had an extensive discography prior to Motown, with his single “Agent Double-O Soul” (1965) breaking the top 20 of US pop charts. Quickly, he worked to expand it further, releasing his first album Soul Master in 1968 and his next album, 25 Miles (1969), charting on the US pop and R&B charts. The title track would earn him his first Motown hit, reaching #6 on US pop and R&B charts. Soon, he was on the road performing his Motown music alongside his previous work, enamoring crowds with his bold style and upbeat music.
As Motown moved from the 60s to the 70s, Edwin Starr stood out. His style and sound helped shift Motown in the new decade. His biggest influence came with the Vietnam War. In 1970, the songwriting duo of Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong wrote the song “War” and first offered it to the Temptations. It was used on their album Psychedelic Shack (1970). The group took a more conservative approach, changing the message from a demand to a question, especially when compared to Starr’s version. With his booming vocals, there was no question that Edwin Starr owned that song. It would become one of the most iconic protest and anti-Vietnam War songs released. It quickly climbed to #1 on the US pop charts, #3 on US R&B and broke the top 50 internationally, also earning a Grammy nomination. He followed the successful release with his 1970 album War and Peace, which saw similar success.
His next major project was the soundtrack for the 1974 film Hell Out Of Harlem. This would be the last project at Motown as he left the label in 1975 to move to the United Kingdom, where his music was growing in popularity. Starr stayed in the U.K., continuing to record and perform, for the rest of his career.
Edwin Starr truly earned his stage name. Since he passed away, he has been inducted into the Michigan Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame. Prior to his death, “War” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
Edwin Starr performing “25 Miles” in 1969 on the UpBeat TV show
Edwin Starr performing “Agent Double-O Soul”
Edwin Starr performing “War” in 2001
Throughout his career, Edwin Starr cited James Brown as a major inspiration for his sound.