Songwriter and producer William "Mickey" Stevenson was one of the unsung heroes behind the extraordinary success of the Motown sound. As the label's first A&R director, he not only recruited major stars like Martha Reeves, but also assembled the company's legendary roster of studio musicians, additionally authoring a number of perennial hits for acts including Marvin Gaye and wife Kim Weston. Stevenson began his career in gospel and doo wop before joining the Tamla/Motown staff in 1959; in addition to co-producing and arranging records for Marv Johnson, the label's first recording artist, his earliest duties included organizing the company's house band. Installing pianist "Ivory" Joe Hunter as bandleader, Stevenson brought together a truly remarkable (albeit relatively unknown) group of Detroit-area jazz and club musicians, including bassist James Jamerson, guitarists Robert White and Joe Messina, and drummer Benny Benjamin. Though their lineup changed frequently in the years to follow, the so-called "Funk Brothers" remained the bedrock of the Motown sound throughout the company's golden age.
Stevenson's last major hit for Motown was 1966's classic "It Takes Two," a duet between Gaye and the producer's wife, Kim Weston. In early 1967, both Stevenson and Weston left Motown to form their own label, People. That spring, Weston signed to MGM and her husband was offered a reported million-dollar deal to assume control of the company's floundering Venture subsidiary. The Midas touch Stevenson possessed in the past soon dissipated, however, so in 1969 he shifted gears and scored the film Changes. He went on to write and produce a series of theatrical musicals, including Swann, Showgirls, Wings and Things, The Gospel Truth, TKO, and Chocolate City. For 1999's Sang, Sista, Sang — a tribute to legendary vocalists like Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Josephine Baker — he reunited with fellow Motown alum Smokey Robinson. ~ Jason Ankeny