He was born Joseph E. Hunter on November 19, 1927, to the union of Vada Idona Hunter and John G. Hunter in Jackson,TN. Just before his twelfth birthday, Hunter and his family moved to Detroit.
Hunter initially learned how to play piano by watching his mother give piano lessons. Later in the army, Hunter played in bands with then up-and-coming jazz drummer Elvin Jones and future Motown pianist Earl Van Dyke. Both he and Van Dyke learned from the band's pianist Dwight Mitchell. After his discharge, Hunter returned to Detroit and began playing in clubs during the week and playing organ in churches on Sundays.
His next Motown recording sessions were for the Contours. The song "Do You Love Me" was a million-seller that held the number one R&B spot for three weeks and went to number three pop in summer 1962. It was later included in the soundtrack of the 1987 Patrick Swayze hit movie Dirty Dancing, and was reissued as a single becoming a number 11 pop smash in the summer of 1988.
Other songs that feature Hunter's piano stylings are "Come and Get These Memories" (number six R&B, spring 1963) and "Heat Wave" (number one R&B for 4 weeks, number four pop, summer 1963) by Martha and the Vandellas. Hunter was also a bandleader during Motown's first live concert tours. He helped recruit James Jamerson and others for Motown's studio band.
In 1963, Hunter left Motown to be a freelance arranger and pianist, working with Jimmy Ruffin, Jimmy McCracklin, Bobby "Blue" Bland ("Too Far Gone to Turn Around"), Al "T&T" Braggs, Junior Parker, Edwin Starr, Lonette McKee and acts on Detroit labels Golden World Records and Fortune Records, among others. But, by the late Eighties, he was playing for tips in the lounge of the Troy Marriott hotel in Detroit. Encouraged by Slutsky's efforts to set the record straight about the Funk Brothers' contribution to the Motown sound, Hunter published an autobiography, Musicians, Motown and Myself: the dawn of a new sound (1996).
The return of the Funk Brothers occurred as the result of the determination of a white Philadelphia musician and writer, Alan Slutsky. Following the publication of the biography, Standing in the Shadows of Motown (1989 ), Slutsky planned a film about the Funk Brothers, which came to fruition as an award-winning documentary film of the same title, in 2002.
The film's success inspired several of the Brothers to regroup for tours in the US and Europe. London concerts in 2004 were rapturously received by critics and audiences alike. The group subsequently won three Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award in 2004.
Further tours took place in 2006 and last month. But Hunter and percussionist Jack Ashford were now the only original members, and critics found the show disappointing. There were Funk Brothers performances in London and Manchester, but shortly after his return to Detroit, Hunter was found dead in his apartment. He had been diagnosed as diabetic, and it is believed this was linked to his death on February 2, 2007, at the age of 79. (info mainly edited from AMG & the Independent)