Motown pianist Joe Hunter dies at 79

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DETROIT -- Three-time Grammy-winning pianist Joe Hunter of the Funk Brothers, the studio band behind numerous Motown hits, has been found dead in his Detroit apartment, Detroit Police said.

Hunter, 79, was a diabetic, but the cause of his death was not immediately known. His son told a local paper it appeared he was trying to take some medicine when he died. He was found dead Friday, police said.

Hunter's piano work was an integral part of such songs as Martha and the Vandellas' "Heat Wave" and Marvin Gaye's "Pride and Joy." He had just returned on Sunday from a European tour with fellow Funk Brother Jack Ashford.

"Joe Hunter's piano and stellar leadership helped birth the Motown Sound," Bruce Resnikoff, president of Universal Music Enterprises, which oversees the Motown catalog, said in a statement.

"You can't miss Joe's piano on those great early hits. The first of the Funk Brothers, his terrific riffs and easy-going musicianship will live forever."

The documentary film "Standing in the Shadows of Motown," was released in 2002, cast a spotlight on the Funk Brothers' little-recognized contribution to the legendary Motown sound. The soundtrack album won two Grammys in 2003. Hunter and the Funks were awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Grammys in 2004.

Hunter was Motown Records founder Berry Gordy Jr.'s first hire. The Funk Brothers put the backbeat into several mainstream hits for artists and bands, including Diana Ross & The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson & The Miracles.
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