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Tue, 04.16.1929

Ed Townsend, Lyricist from his heart

Ed Townsend

Ed Townsend was born on this date in 1929. He was a Black songwriter and producer.

From Fayetteville, Tennessee, his father was a minister and as a result of his work, the family moved to Memphis. The church building where his father worked was one of the few places that had a piano and it became a musical outlet as well as a place of worship for young Townsend. At 17, he was elected to the International American Methodist Episcopal Youth Council, which allowed him to visit many countries.

He studied law and after graduating from Arkansas State College, he taught for a year. His legal background made him acutely aware of the exploitative nature of the contracts signed by many musicians.  In 1951 Townsend served in Korea with the Marines. He often sang on military concerts until his discharge. Back in America, Townsend composted many singles (A Bordertown Cathedral, Every Night, and Tall Grows The Sycamore) for various labels without success. In 1958 he took his ballad, For Your Love to Capitol Records, hoping to interest Nat “King” Cole.   instead, the label signed him as a performer and he recorded it with Gerald Wilson’s orchestration.

The single made the US Top 20, ironically at the same time as a similar ballad, For Your Precious Love, by Jerry Butler and the Impressions. Even with an excellent revival of the 1935 Oscar Hammerstein song, When I Grow Too Old To Dream, Townsend had no further US hits. At Capitol, Townsend recorded two albums of standards with Nelson Riddle and his Orchestra, New In Town and Glad To Be Here. In 1962 he wrote a surprising record for Ben E. King, How Can I Forget? which brought out the most emotional performance of his career. The following year he wrote and produced Theola Kilgore’s The Love Of My Man.  His songs include for Chuck Jackson (Tears Of Joy and Hand It Over), the Shirelles (I Might Like It), Maxine Brown (Since I Found You) and Dee Dee Warwick (Foolish Fool).

Townsend was addicted to drugs and alcohol and after seeking treatment, he thought of writing about his experiences in Let’s Get It On. He took the idea to his friend, Marvin Gaye, who was looking for a way to follow his groundbreaking What’s Going On (1971) album. The resulting album also contained the poignant love song, If I Should Die Tonight.  Townsend also worked with Gaye on an album about his divorce, Here My Dear (1978), and his hit single, Got To Give It Up.

In 1974, Townsend wrote and produced the Impressions’ Finally Got Myself Together (I’m A Changed Man). He was putting his message across, “How else could I share what I felt except through songwriting? I learned to overcome the problem by learning to love people. Not love the whole world, but those who are really close to you.” Ed Townsend was married twice, had 2 sons and 1 daughter.  He died on August 13, 2003 in San Bernardino, CA.

Reference:
ACSAP Biographical Dictionary
R. R. Bowker Co., Copyright 1980
ISBN 0-8351-1283-1

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