FRANK WILSON 1940 - 2012

Frank Wilson's Do I Love You (Indeed I Do) possessed all the ingredients of a northern soul classic: a good song, a cracking beat, a heartfelt vocal and, most of all, the cachet bestowed by extreme rarity. Only two copies are known to exist, one of which was sold at auction three years ago for £25,000. But Wilson, who has died aged 71, had long since given up his career in the music industry to pursue a vocation as a minister of the church.

Recorded in Los Angeles in 1965, Do I Love You was intended to be his first release on the Motown label. As with any normal 45rpm single, copies were pressed. But then Wilson arrived in Detroit, Motown's home town, and met Berry Gordy, the company's founder. Knowing that Wilson had also been working as a songwriter and record producer, Gordy asked him point-blank which career path he intended to pursue.

When Wilson confessed that he really wanted to be a writer and producer, Gordy cancelled the release and ordered the pressings to be destroyed. As he saw it, there was no point in wasting the company's precious time and promotional energy on an artist who was not interested in committing himself to a career in the spotlight.

A very small number of the discs survived, however, and in 1977 one found its way from the Motown archive into the hands of Simon Soussan, a disco entrepreneur who specialised in feeding rare records into Britain's northern soul scene, often in bootleg form. In order to preserve and enhance the value of such a record, the details on the label – including the artist's name and even the song title – would be changed to put other collectors off the scent.

Bootlegged under the name of Eddie Foster, Do I Love You quickly became a favourite at such hotbeds of the northern soul movement as Wigan Casino and the Blackpool Mecca. When Soussan sold his entire collection of 45s, including the original Wilson disc, to another collector in 1978, the singer's true identity was revealed and the British Tamla-Motown label was able to respond by making it an official release, having copied the record from a bootleg, since no master tape could be found. In 1990 a second original copy appeared in the hands of another British collector, having emerged from the library of the Detroit plant where it was made.

Oddly for such a typically Motown record, none of the regular Hitsville USA musicians was involved in the session. The bass guitarist Carol Kaye and the drummer Earl Palmer were among the Hollywood session musicians backing Wilson and proving, under the guidance of the producers Hal Davis and Marc Gordon, that the Detroit sound could be successfully counterfeited and even sold back to the company in whose studio it had been invented.

Wilson was born in Houston, Texas. Taught to play the piano by his mother, a domestic servant, he later joined his uncles' singing group, the Gibbs Five. He studied at the University of Baton Rouge before pursuing a career in music in Los Angeles, where he sang with a gospel group, the Angelaires. Hearing the singer Brenda Holloway persuaded him to move into secular music, and he made a series of records as a singer for minor labels under the names Sonny Daye, Chester St Anthony and Eddie Wilson.

When Gordy invited Davis and Gordon to run a new Motown office in Los Angeles in 1964, the first result was Holloway's classic Every Little Bit Hurts. Wilson soon became a member of their team, and Do I Love You was to have been his first release. The Los Angeles operation lasted only a couple of years in that incarnation but Wilson accepted Gordy's invitation to move to Detroit and continued to work with Motown, co-writing Holloway's You've Made Me So Very Happy (later a hit for Blood, Sweat and Tears) and the Supremes' Up the Ladder to the Roof and Stoned Love, and, after moving back to California, and co-writing a string of hits for the former Temptations singer Eddie Kendricks, including Girl You Need a Change of Mind, Keep on Truckin' and Boogie Down.

In the mid-1970s, however, he decided to change the course of his life. A grandfather and several uncles had been ministers and he entered a theological seminary, emerging to spend the rest of his life preaching in and around Los Angeles, including to a fellowship for entertainers. In 2001, however, he was invited to perform for northern soul fans in Fleetwood, Lancashire, where he autographed the original copy of Do I Love You.

Wilson was married twice, first to Barbara Dedmon, a singer who recorded the guide vocal of Every Little Bit Hurts before Holloway arrived to overdub her voice. She died at the age of 23, after giving birth to their only child, a daughter. Wilson is survived by his second wife, Bunny, their four daughters, a son by an earlier relationship and the daughter of his first marriage.

• Frank Edward Wilson, songwriter, record producer, singer and minister of the church, born 5 December 1940; died 27 September 2012