The New York-born Whitfield was a longtime Motown producer who during the 1960s and '70s injected rock and psychedelic touches into the label's soul music.
Many of his biggest hits were co-written with Barrett Strong, with whom he was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2004. He and Strong won the Grammy in 1972 for best R&B song for the Temptations' "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."
Many of Whitfield's songs from late '60s and early '70s have a strong political tone, including the Temptations' 1970 "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)," and Edwin Starr's 1970 "War."
In his only No. 1 hit, Starr sings in an anguished voice that war is "a heartbreaker, friend only to the undertaker. ... What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!" Whitfield produced as well as co-wrote the song.
Among Whitfield's other songs were "Cloud Nine," "Beauty Is Only Skin Deep" and "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)," all hits for the Temptations; and "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby," a 1969 hit for Marvin Gaye.
The group Undisputed Truth had a top five hit in 1971 with Whitfield and Strong's "Smiling Faces Sometimes."
Whitfield "was able to go beyond R&B cliches with punchy melodies and arrangements and topical lyrics," Joe McEwen and Jim Miller wrote in "The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll."
Whitfield won another Grammy in 1976 for best original TV or motion picture score for "Car Wash." The movie's theme song was a No. 1 hit for Rose Royce and a Golden Globe nominee for best original song.
In a statement, Motown great Smokey Robinson hailed Whitfield as "one of the most prolific songwriters and record producers of our time. He will live forever through his great music."
Just last week, Gaye's version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," from 1968, was ranked at No. 65 in Billboard magazine's compilation of the top singles of the past 50 years. It was also a hit for Gladys Knight and the Pips, in 1967.