Motown legend Joe Hunter, whose piano playing influenced the development of the genre in the late 1950s, has died in his Detroit home.

The 80-year-old was the first recording musician for Motown Records, where he played piano with the Funk Brothers  Motown's in-house studio band.

During his five-year recording career Hunter played on a number of well-known Motown stars, including Heat Wave by Martha and the Vandellas, Do You Love Me by The Contours and Marvin Gaye's Pride and Joy.

He left the band in 1964 and slipped into obscurity, forced into playing for tips in hotels.

His fortunes were revived in 2002, however, when the documentary film Standing in the Shadows of Motown brought the Funk Brothers back to prominence.

Hunter won two Grammy Awards for the soundtrack album to that release, as well as a lifetime achievement award. He ended his life as a working musician in Detroit. The immediate cause of his death is unknown, although he was a diabetic, the Detroit News reported.

04/02/2007 12:25:57