Soul and R&B singer Edwin Starr remains synonymous with his biggest Motown Records hit, the landmark Vietnam War protest anthem "War."
Starr, a former member of the United States Army, first drew attention to his powerful and emotive vocal style with a series of singles for Detroit-based Ric-Tic Records, including 1965's "Agent Double-O-Soul" and "Stop Her on Sight (S.O.S.)," which reached number nine on the Billboard R&B chart in early 1966 and climbed to number 48 on the Hot 100. Ric-Tic's mounting success so displeased Motown founder Berry Gordy Jr. that in 1968 he purchased his crosstown rival for $1 million, acquiring Starr's contract in the process. The singer's career nevertheless languished under Gordy's supervision until "Twenty-Five Miles" soared to the number six position on both the pop charts and the R&B charts in early 1969.
Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong originally wrote "War" for the Temptations' 1970 album Psychedelic Shack. Gordy flatly resisted calls from college students and activists to release the Temptations' version as a single, fearing its fierce anti-war sentiments might jeopardize the group's image or alienate more conservative audiences. But Motown allowed Whitfield to produce a new version of "War" with another artist less vital to the label's bottom line, and Starr raised his hand. His stentorian vocal and Whitfield's signature psychedelic soul production yielded a number one pop hit; Starr also went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. He never again matched the success of "War" but continued recording and performing live until his death.