Obituary: Deke Richards / Creator of numerous Motown hits

April 8, 1944 - March 24, 2013

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Deke Richards, the leader of the Motown songwriting and producing team responsible for some of the Jackson 5's biggest hits, died Sunday in Bellingham, Wash. He was 68.

The cause was esophageal cancer, his family said.

In 1969, Mr. Richards teamed in Detroit with Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown, and songwriters Freddie Perren and Alphonzo Mizell, to work with the Jackson 5, a virtually unknown brother act from Indiana that had recently signed with the label. Collectively billed as The Corporation, the four struck gold immediately.

The Jackson 5's first three singles, "I Want You Back," "ABC" and "The Love You Save" -- all written and produced by The Corporation, and all featuring the vocals of a very young Michael Jackson -- reached No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. The Corporation went on to write and produce other hits for the Jackson 5, including "Mama's Pearl" and "Maybe Tomorrow."

Mr. Richards later worked, both with The Corporation and on his own, with Diana Ross, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Seasons and others.

He had already reached the top of the charts before working with the Jackson 5. He briefly belonged to another four-person Motown collective, The Clan, which wrote and produced "Love Child," a No. 1 single for Diana Ross and the Supremes in 1968.

Deke Richards was born Dennis Lussier on April 8, 1944, and grew up in Los Angeles, where his father, Dane Lussier, worked as a screenwriter.

He played guitar in bands before he began doing production work for Motown in 1966. After Mr. Gordy named him the Jackson 5's producer, he brought in Perren, who died in 2004, and Mizell, who died in 2011, to work with him and, he later recalled, asked Mr. Gordy for songwriting and production advice. Mr. Gordy, who had begun his career as a songwriter but had not done any writing or producing for several years, eventually became a full-fledged member of the team.

The Corporation developed a distinctive sound for the Jackson 5 that some have called "bubblegum soul," blending upbeat pop melodies with rhythm-and-blues grooves. The formula was designed to reach a wide audience, and it did, bringing the group international stardom.

In later years, Mr. Richards' primary focus was The Poster Palace, a company he operated that sells vintage movie posters, but he continued to take on occasional musical projects. Last year, he produced "Come and Get It: The Rare Pearls," a compilation of previously unreleased Jackson 5 recordings.

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