On this day in 2003, the singer of one of the best known anti-war protest songs, "War," died from a heart attack at his home in England. Born in Nashville and raised in Cleveland, Edwin Starr (born Charles Hatcher) moved to Detroit in the ’60s and eventually started recording for Motown. In 1968, he had his first big hit, "Twenty-Five Miles," but two years later he'd release a song originally recorded by The Temptations (and written by genius songwriting team Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong) that would become his signature.
Motown wasn't keen on letting The Temptations release "War" — a very obvious protest number ("War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothin' ") aimed at the Vietnam War — out of fear that it would alienate the group's fans, so Starr recorded it, giving it a more intense delivery, and it went to No. 1 upon its release in the summer of 1970, where it stayed for three weeks.
Starr embraced his role as outspoken anti-war critic and released the single "Stop the War Now" in 1971 (it was yet another song also recorded by The Temptations, who clearly had dibs on material).
Starr ultimately left Motown, tiring of the more formulaic material they were producing, and moved to the U.K. He recorded several songs with the British group, Utah Saints, including a new version of "War" in 2003, which became his final recorded output. Bruce Springsteen repopularized the song when he performed it towards the end of his Born in the U.S.A. tour. The Boss' version was released as a live single in 1986 and made it to No.Billboard singles chart. (Oh, and also in the ’80s, Frankie Goes to Hollywood covered it, though I think just so Holly Johnson could reprise his "Hunnhhhh!" shout from "Relax.")
The Temptations did release a slightly less direct song with societal commentary in 1970 that made it to No. 3, the superb "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)."
Click on for Born This Day featuring Serge Gainsbourg, Marvin Gaye, Dr. Demento and Zeebra.
Born This Day: Musical movers and shakers sharing a April 2 birthday include suave, influential French crooner/composer Serge Gainsbourg (1928); suave, influential American Soul crooner/composer Marvin Gaye (1939); not suave but mildly influential novelty song curator extraordinaire Barret Eugene Hansen, better known as Dr. Demento (1941); Rock legend Leon Russell (1942); drummer for pioneering groups DMZ, The Modern Lovers and The Cars, David Robinson (1949); and rapper Zeebra (1971).
Zeebra's name is probably not familiar to many Hip Hop fans stateside, but to fans of Japanese Hip Hop, Hideyuki Yokoi (the MC's real name) is a pioneer and a legend. He got his start in the early ’90s with the underground group King Giddra, which rapped about problems and issues important to the young people of Japan. King Giddra eventually became quite successful, but Zeebra went solo in 1996, recording his first single, "Untouchable," with Gang Starr's DJ Premier. Today, Zeebra remains one of the biggest Hip Hop artists in Japan and a testament to Hip Hop's ability to be transferred to any culture and used as a vessel to talk about community concerns and, sometimes, make some big bucks.
Zeebra's rise has not been without controversy, albeit not on the level of, say, getting arrested with guns or getting pulled over by the cops while on a PCP rampage. In 2008, after winning yet another "Best Hip Hop Video" award at the MTV Video Music Awards Japan, Zeebra posted a YouTube video criticizing the awards show for not being respectful of the artists.
Here's the song for which Zeebra won his sixth MTV award, "Not Your Boyfriend," featuring guest Jesse McFaddin from Japanese AltRock band Rize.