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Dick Griffey, SOLAR Records founder, dies at 71

- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 29, 2010

NEW YORK (AP) - Dick Griffey, a key figure in black music whose record label SOLAR churned out classic R&B hits including "Fantastic Voyage" and "Rock Steady," has died. He was 71.

Griffey died Friday in Los Angeles of complications from quadruple bypass surgery, according to a family statement released Tuesday. The Nashville, Tenn.-born entreprenueur was instrumental to soul and funk music and in black entertainment.

Island Def Jam Chairman and CEO Antonio "L.A." Reid, who got his start with SOLAR as a member of the group the Deele, said Wednesday that SOLAR made black pop music for the 1980s and was a cultural force.

"When we look at Motown as an example, the nearest competitor was SOLAR," he said in an interview Wednesday. "The talent under that roof was insane."

SOLAR was home to such top acts as the Whispers, Shalamar, Lakeside, Midnight Star and Klymaxx _ groups that helped keep the label at the forefront of R&B music with hits including "As the Beat Goes On," "Second Time Around" and "I Miss You."

Griffey is also credited with giving the upstart production duo of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis early work paving the way for their blockbuster songwriting and production career. SOLAR was also home to the group the Deele, which featured Reid and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Babyface.

Reid said it was Griffey who suggested he start producing when Reid told him he couldn't start work on the Deele's second album because the chosen producers were busy. With Babyface, Reid produced some of the biggest acts in the 1990s and created LaFace Records.

"That was a life-changing moment in our careers," he said.

Griffey's first major success came as a concert promoter, when he worked with superstar acts such as Stevie Wonder and the Jacksons.

But Griffey soon turned his talents to creating new hitmakers. In 1975, after working for Don Cornelius as the talent coordinator on "Soul Train," he partnered with Cornelius to start Soul Train Records. Cornelius and Griffey split two years later, and Griffey went on to found SOLAR Records.

In a statement, Quincy Jones said: "Dick Griffey was one of the great pioneering executives in the music business. ... Although Dick stepped away from the music industry many years ago, his presence will forever be felt through the artists that he worked with and shepherded over his time in the business."

Griffey spent his latter years engrossed in African affairs. He was a supporter of South Africa's African National Congress and later established a trading company in West Africa and built a school for girls in Ghana in honor of his mother.

"I always had a vision that Africans and African-Americans should come together and benefit one another. We are the only people that are from nowhere. Cesar Chavez is a Mexican-American, Robert Kennedy is an Irish-American ... Where do blacks come from?" he said. "I always understood that we were Africans. Not understanding that is what makes it difficult for us in this world. Until we make that connection, it will remain difficult."

Survivors include his wife and five children.

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