Robert Bateman, one of the first employees at Motown and writer of Please Mr. Postman, died on Wednesday morning after suffering a massive heart attack at the age of 80.
Bateman, who was born in Illinois, grew up in Detroit and was among the first people hired by Barry Gordy for his new label. He first started as a backup singer and engineer and was responsible for acquiring the first used recording equipment that the label owned.
In 1959, Bateman and fellow Motown employee Sonny Sanders tried to form a vocal group with the young Brian Holland and Jimmy Ellis, a neighbor of Sanders. Things didn’t work out with Holland and they soon brought in Chico Leverett, calling themselves the Satintones.
Signing with Tamla Records, they released their debut single, Going to the Hop before moving to Motown for five more releases, one of which was pulled from the market when it was determined it was too close in sound to the Shirelles Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.
Leverett left the group in early 1961 and, by the end of the year, the rest of the singers disbanded, but Bateman still had his Motown employment and he partnered with Holland under the name Brianbert to write and produce the labels first number one record, Please Mr. Postman for the Marvelettes. The song later went on to become an even bigger hit for the Carpenters in the 70’s.
Bateman went on to co-write Twistin’ Postman (1962 / #34 Pop / #13 R&B) and Playboy (1962 / #7 Pop / #4 R&B) before leaving Motown and moving to New York where he wrote and produced for the likes of Wilson Pickett, Florence Ballard and others. He also occasionally wrote, including If You Need Me for Solomon Burke (1963 / #37 Pop / #2 R&B) and Skate Now for Lou Courtney (1967 / #71 Pop / #13 R&B).
Robert returned to Detroit in 1970 and worked in local studios for the rest of his life.
This past August 21, Bateman was inducted into the R&B Hall of Fame in Dearborn, MI.
Bateman was in Los Angeles for the HAL Awards in late September when he suffered the heart attack. He soon after slipped into a coma and died on Wednesday.