Though his career stretched from Doo-Wop to Disco, Edwin Starr will best be remembered for his groundbreaking hit “War,” one of the first Soul records to deliver serious social commentary along with the beat.
Born Charles Edwin Hatcher, Starr pursued a musical career in Detroit after serving in the army, adopting his stage name and signing to the local Ric-Tic label. Starr recorded a series of moderately successful singles for Ric-Tic; then he became a Motown artist when Motown owner Berry Gordy bought the label in 1968. Though Starr’s rough vocal style was atypical for Motown, his gritty delivery was a perfect fit for his first Top 10 hit at the label, the bouncy “25 Miles.”
In 1970, Motown staff producer Norman Whitfield recorded “War,” an anti Viet Nam War song, with the top-selling group the Temptations, but the label declined to release it as a single, due to worries that the group’s fans wouldn’t accept an antiwar message. Whitfield decided it would be a good fit for Starr, with his impassioned delivery, and they re-recorded the song. With Starr’s ferocious lead vocal and its chorus of "War, huh, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing" the single spent three weeks at No. 1, becoming a anthem for the antiwar movement.
Starr’s subsequent singles sold poorly, although his last release for Motown, the soundtrack "Hell Up In Harlem," would become an often sampled Funk classic. Tiring of Motown’s formulaic approach, Starr left the label and moved to England. He continued to record for a variety of labels, having some success (especially in the U.K.) in the Disco field. He died in 2003 following a heart attack, at age 61.