Robert Bateman (far right) with the Satintones
Robert Bateman, the songwriter behind such Motown hits as "Please Mr. Postman" and "Playboy," died this morning in Sherman Oaks, Calif., of a massive heart attack. He was 80.
Bateman, who still resided in Detroit, had traveled in late September to Los Angeles, where he was a guest at the HAL Awards ceremony. Soon after, he suffered cardiac arrest and slipped into a coma, family members said Wednesday.
The deep-voiced Bateman, an Illinois native, had been among the first personnel enlisted at Berry Gordy Jr.'s fledgling record company in 1959, initially working as a backing singer and engineer. He acquired Motown's first set of recording gear — a tape machine discarded by Detroit radio station WJLB. His own group, the Satintones, recorded several singles for the label.
With "Please Mr. Postman" — which he cowrote and coproduced for the Marvelettes in 1961 — Bateman helped give Motown its first No. 1 hit on the U.S. pop charts. The song was famously revived two years later by the Beatles for the group's second album.
Bateman left Motown Records in 1963 but remained in the music industry, moving to New York to work at Capitol Records and produce material with artists such as Wilson Pickett. He attended the Woodstock festival in 1969, said nephew Tony Stovall.
"My uncle was just an adventurous guy," he said. "Way ahead of the curve."
Born with one arm shorter than the other, the lanky Bateman had a distinctive gait.
"People thought he was just trying to be cool," said Stovall. "But they started walking like him."
Upon returning to Detroit in 1970, he found work in local studios, handling a variety of duties.
"He did it all — producing, writing and discovering artists," said Stovall. "From A to Z, he could do anything in the music business."
Bateman was a familiar figure at Motown reunions and other gatherings through the decades. His last public appearance in Detroit came Aug. 21 in Dearborn, where he was inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame.
Funeral information has not been set, but Swanson Funeral Home in Detroit will be handling arrangements.