Marvin Gaye

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Marvin Gaye
Marvin Gaye on the cover of his landmark 1971 album What's Going On
Marvin Gaye on the cover of his landmark 1971 album What's Going On
Background information
Birth name Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr.
Born April 2, 1939
Origin Washington, D.C., USA
Died April 1, 1984; Los Angeles, California
Genre(s) R&B, pop, soul, funk
Occupation(s) Singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, record producer
Instrument(s) Vocals, piano/ keyboard, synthesizer, drums
Years active 1957-1984
Label(s) Tamla, Columbia
The Moonglows, Tammi Terrell, The Originals

Marvin Gaye (born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr.) ( April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984) was an American soul and R&B singer-songwriter, instrumentalist, record producer and performer who gained international fame as an artist on the Motown label in the 1960s and 1970s.

Beginning his career in Motown in 1960, Gaye quickly became Motown's top solo male artist and scored numerous hits during the 1960s, among them " Stubborn Kind of Fellow", " How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", " I Heard It Through the Grapevine", and several hit duets with Tammi Terrell, including " Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and " You're All I Need to Get By", before moving on to his own form of musical self-expression.

Along with Stevie Wonder, Gaye is notable for fighting the hit-making—but creatively restrictive—Motown record-making process, in which performers and songwriters and record producers were generally kept in separate camps. Gaye forced Motown to release his very successful 1971 album What's Going On. Subsequent releases proved that Gaye, who had been a part-time songwriter for Motown artists during his early years with the label, could write and produce his own singles without having to rely on the Motown system. This achievement would pave the way for the successes of later self-sufficient singer-songwriter-producers in African American music, such as Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, and Babyface.

During the 1970s, Gaye would release several other notable albums, including Let's Get It On and I Want You, and had hits with soul singles such as " Let's Get It On", " Got to Give It Up", and " Sexual Healing". By the time of his death in 1984, at the hands of his clergyman father, Gaye had become one of the most influential artists of the soul music era.


Early music career

After being discharged from a tenure in the United States Air Force for not following orders, young Marvin joined several doo wop groups, settling on The Marquees, a popular D.C. group. With Bo Diddley, The Marquees released a single, "Wyatt Earp", in 1958 on Okeh Records and were then recruited by Harvey Fuqua to become The Moonglows. "Mama Loocie", released in 1959 on Chess Records, was Gaye's first single with the Moonglows and his first recorded lead. After a concert in Detroit, the "new" Moonglows disbanded and Fuqua introduced Gaye to Motown Records president Berry Gordy. He signed Gaye first as a session drummer for acts such as The Miracles and The Marvelettes and after much pleading, was signed as a singer less than a year later.

As a session drummer and part-time songwriter, Gaye worked with The Miracles, The Contours, Martha & the Vandellas, and other Motown acts. Most notably, he is the drummer on The Marvelettes' 1961 number one hit " Please Mr. Postman" and Little Stevie Wonder's 1963 number one hit " Fingertips Pt. 2" and co-wrote Martha & the Vandellas' 1964 hit " Dancing In The Street" and The Marvelettes' 1962 hit "Beechwood 4-5789". Popular and well-liked around Motown, Gaye already carried himself in a sophisticated, gentlemanly manner and had little need of training from Motown's in-house Artist Development director Miss Maxine Powell.

Solo career

In 1961, Marvin released his debut album for the label, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, which was full of jazz standards and Broadway theatre standards. However, the album and three subsequent singles that came afterwards, failed to generate an audience and in the fall of 1962, he was convinced to do the R&B-rooted productions that was a staple at Motown releasing his first hit with " Stubborn Kind of Fellow". The single was co-written by Gaye and William "Mickey" Stevenson, who created the title as a sly reference to the sometimes moody Gaye and became a Top 10 R&B record peaking at number eight on the chart. 1963's " Hitch Hike" and " Can I Get a Witness" were his first Top 40 pop hits. These earlier records featured a "churchiness…that was pushed by that urgent Detroit rhythm section". " Pride & Joy" ( 1963) became a smash hit, but Gaye was discontented with the role he felt Motown Records kept him locked in: a romantic balladeer and crooner, aiming always for chart success in the singles market. He wanted instead to be a pop singer in the vein of Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra but settled for a blend of the styles of those artists with the passionate soul singing of performers such as Jackie Wilson and his role model Sam Cooke. Some of Marvin's famed early material followed including " You Are a Wonderful One", " How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", and his first two #1 R&B singles, the Miracles-composed numbers " I'll Be Doggone" and " Ain't That Peculiar". His 1966 album, Moods of Marvin Gaye, made him one of the first R&B artists to have more than five Top 40 hit singles in one record.

Enter Tammi Terrell

A number of Gaye's hit singles for Motown were duets with female artists such as Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell; the first Gaye/Wells album, 1964's Together, was Gaye's first charting album. Terrell and Gaye in particular had a good rapport, and their first album together, 1967's United, birthed the massive hits " Ain't No Mountain High Enough" and " Your Precious Love". Real life couple Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson provided the writing and production for the Gaye/Terrell records; while Gaye and Terrell themselves were not lovers (though rumors persist that they may have been), they convincingly portrayed lovers on record, indeed Gaye sometimes claimed that for the durations of the songs he was in love with her. On October 14, 1967, Terrell collapsed into Gaye's arms onstage while they were performing at the Hampton University homecoming in Virginia (contrary to popular belief, it was not Hampden-Sydney College, also in Virginia). She was later diagnosed with a brain tumor, and her health continued to deteriorate.

Motown decided to try and carry on with the Gaye/Terrell recordings, issuing the You're All I Need album in 1968, which featured the hits " Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" and " You're All I Need to Get By". By the time of the final Gaye/Terrell album, Easy, in 1969, Terrell's vocals were performed mostly by Valerie Simpson. Two tracks on Easy were archived Terrell solo songs with Gaye's vocals overdubbed onto them.

Terrell's illness put Gaye in a depression; when his Norman Whitfield-produced " I Heard It Through the Grapevine" ( sample ) became his first #1 hit and the biggest selling single in Motown history to that point, he refused to acknowledge his success, feeling that it was undeserved. Meanwhile, Gaye's marriage was crumbling with Anna and he continued to feel irrelevant, singing endlessly about love while popular music underwent a revolution and began addressing social and political issues.

What's Going On

Tammi Terrell died of brain cancer on March 16, 1970. Gaye subsequently went into self-seclusion, and did not perform in concert for nearly two years. He tried various spirit-lifting diversions, including a short-lived attempt at a football career with the Detroit Lions. He trained hard but the team's managers turned him down without a tryout. He continued to feel pain with no form of self-expression. As a result, he entered the studio on June 1, 1970 and recorded the songs " What's Going On", "God is Love", and "Sad Tomorrows" - an early version of "Flying High (In the Friendly Sky)".

Gaye wanted to release " What's Going On" ( sample ). Motown head Berry Gordy refused, however, calling the single "uncommercial". Gaye refused to record any more until Gordy gave in, and the song became a surprise hit in January of 1971. Gordy subsequently requested an entire album of similar tracks from Gaye.

The What's Going On album became one of the highlights of Gaye's career, and is today his best known work. Both in terms of sound (influenced by funk and jazz) and lyrical content (heavily political) it was a major departure from his earlier Motown work. Two more of its singles, " Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" and " Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)", became Top 10 pop hits and #1 R&B hits. The album became one of the most memorable soul albums of all time, and, based upon its themes, the concept album became the next new frontier for soul music. It has been called "the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices."

Continued success in music

After the success of the soundtrack to the blaxplotation film, Trouble Man in 1972, Marvin decided to switch topics from social to sensual with the release of Let's Get It On ( sample ). The album was a rare departure for the singer for its blatant sensualism inspired by the success of What's Going On and Marvin's need to produce himself in his own way. Yielded by the smash title track and subsequent other hits such as " Come Get to This", " You Sure Love to Ball" and " Distant Lover", the album would be later hailed as "a record unparallelled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy."

Gaye began working on his final duet album, this time for Diana Ross for the Diana & Marvin project, an album of duets that began recording in 1972, while Ross was pregnant with her second child, Tracee Ellis Ross. Gaye, a longtime marijuana smoker, refused to put his joints out for the pregnant Ross, who immediately complained to Berry Gordy about the issue. Gaye refused to sing if he couldn't smoke in the studio, and the duet album was recorded by overdubbing Ross and Gaye at separate studio session dates. Released in the fall of 1973, the album yielded the US hit singles " You're a Special Part of Me and the UK top five version of The Stylistics' " You Are Everything". During this time, a live recording of " Distant Lover" was so well received that Motown issued a single release for the live album resulting in a rare chart success for Gaye and helping his live album, Marvin Gaye Live!, reach the top ten of the Billboard pop album chart. Also during this time, Marvin hosted his own special concerning his return to live performing after the death of Tammi Terrell on The Midnight Special, which also showed rare interviews by Gaye during the period and a rare moment with Marvin and his father. After the success of Let's Get It On, Marvin went through writer's block trying to come up with a follow-up.

In 1975 Marvin teamed up with Motown songwriter and aspiring singer Leon Ware on a series of sensual productions that were originally were to be recorded by Ware himself until Motown CEO Berry Gordy approached Ware to give the songs to Gaye. In April of the following year, Marvin released the I Want You LP, which yielded the number-one R&B single, " I Want You", and the modest charter, " After the Dance", and produced erotic album tracks such as "Since I Had You" and "Soon I'll Be Loving You Again" with its musical productions gearing Gaye more towards more funky material.

Later years

In 1977, Gaye released the seminal funk single, " Got to Give It Up", which went to number-one on both the pop, R&B and dance singles charts and helped his Live at the London Palladium album sell over two million copies and becoming one of the top ten best-selling albums of the year. The following year, after divorcing his first wife Anna, he agreed to remit a portion of his salary and sales of his upcoming album to his ex for alimony. The result was 1978's Here, My Dear, which addressed the sour points of his marriage to Anna and almost led to Anna filing a invasion of privacy against Marvin though she later recanted that decision. That album tanked on the charts, despite its later critical reevaulation, however, and Gaye struggled to sell a record. By 1979, beseiged by tax problems and drug addictions, Gaye filed for bankruptcy and moved to Hawaii where he lived in a bread van. In 1980, he signed with British promoter Jeffrey Kruger to do concerts overseas with the highlight supposedly a Royal Command Performance at London's Drury Lane in front of Princess Margaret. Gaye failed to make the stage on time and by the time he came, everyone had left. While in London, Marvin worked on In Our Lifetime?, a complex and deeply personal record. When Motown issued the album in 1981, Gaye was livid: he accused Motown of editing and remixing the album without his consent, releasing an unfinished song, ("Far Cry") altering the album art he requested and removing the question mark from the title (rendering the intended irony imperceptible).

After being offered a chance to clear things out in Oostende, Belgium, he permanently moved to the famous coastal country in 1981. After being upset over Motown's hasty decision to release In Our Lifetime, he negotiated a release from the label and signed with Columbia Records in 1982 and released Midnight Love the same year. The album included Marvin's final big hit, " Sexual Healing" ( sample ). The song gave Gaye his first two Grammy Awards for ( Best R&B Male Vocal Performance and Best R&B Instrumental) in February 1983. The following year, he won a Grammy nomination for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance again, this time for the Midnight Love album itself. Around this time Marvin gave an emotional performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at the NBA All-Star Game, held at The Forum in Inglewood, California. A month later, he gave his final performance in front of his old mentor and label for "Motown 25" performing "What's Going On" before going out on a U.S. tour to support his album, which was plagued by health problems and Gaye's bouts with depression and paranoia over an alleged attempt on his life before ending in August 1983.

By the time the tour ended, he isolated himself by moving into his parents' house. He threatened to commit suicide several times after numerous bitter arguments with his father, Marvin, Sr. On April 1, 1984, one day before his forty-fifth birthday, Gaye's father shot and killed him after an argument that had started after Marvin's parents argued over misplaced business documents. Marvin, Sr. later was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Charges of first-degree murder were dropped after doctors discovered he had a tumor. Later serving his final years in a retirement home, he died of pneumonia in 1998.

After some posthumous releases cemented his memory in the popular consciousness, Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. He later was inducted to Hollywood's Rock Walk in 1989 and the following year was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990.

Personal life

Marvin Gaye was born the first son and second eldest of four children to Rev. Marvin Pentz Gay, Sr and schoolteacher Alberta Williams. He, sisters Jeanne and baby Zeola, and younger brother Frankie Gaye lived in the segregated section of Washington, D.C.'s Deanwood neighbourhood in the northeastern section of the city. Marvin's father preached in a Seventh-day Adventist Church sect called the House of God, which went by a strict code of conduct and mixed teachings of " Orthodox Judaism subarity and black Pentecostal joy" and didn't practice celebrating holidays and birthdays. Marvin's father was physically abusive and often whup his four children if he felt they misbehaved. Jeanne Gay has said that Marvin's father couldn't understand Marvin's free-spirtedness. After dropping out of Cardozo High School, Marvin left school and joined the United States Air Force only to drop out within months because the teenager refused to follow orders. Brother Frankie Gaye would later follow his brother in the music business with modest success. After starting his recording career in Motown, Marvin changed his name from Marvin Gay to Marvin Gaye adding the 'e' to separate himself from his father, end all gossip concerning his sexuality, and also in admiration of his idol, Sam Cooke, who also added an 'e' to his last name ( ). Marvin married twice. His first marriage, to Berry Gordy, Jr.'s sister Anna Gordy, which was inspired by Gaye's earlier hits including " Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and " You Are a Wonderful One", produced an adopted son, Marvin Pentz Gaye III (b. June 8, 1965). Troubling from the start, the marriage permanently imploded after Marvin began courting the seventeen-year-old daughter of hipster jazz icon Slim Gaillard named Jan Hunter in 1973 following the release of his Let's Get It On album. Hunter was also an inspiration to Gaye's music, particularly his entire post- What's Going On/ Trouble Man period which included Let's Get It On and I Want You. Their relationship produced two children, Nona Marvisa Gaye (b. September 4, 1974) and Frankie Christian Gaye (b. November 16, 1975). Marvin and Janis didn't marry until the final termination of Marvin's marriage to Anna was confirmed. Shortly after their October 1977 wedding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, however, they separated due to growing tensions between the couple finally divorcing in February of 1981. After Marvin's death, two of Marvin's children followed in his footsteps to show business: eldest son Marvin Pentz Gaye III became a record producer and has control of his estate while Gaye's only daughter, Nona, became a model, an acclaimed actress and as a singer was noted for working closely with Prince. Marvin's youngest child, son Frankie Christian, has not followed his siblings into show business. Marvin has two grandchildren and neo-soul singer Donnie, who recorded the critically-acclaimed 2001 album, The Colored Section, is a relative of Gaye's.

Legacy, tributes and award recognitions

Even before Gaye died, there had already been tributes to the singer. In 1983, the British group Spandau Ballet recorded the single "True" as a partial tribute to both Gaye and the Motown sound he helped establish. A year after his death, The Commodores made reference to Gaye's death in their 1985 song "Night Shift" as did the Violent Femmes in their 1988 song "See My Ships". Former Motown alum Diana Ross also paid tribute with her Top 10 pop single " Missing You" (1985) while the soul band Maze featuring Frankie Beverly recorded the tribute song, "Silky Soul" (1989), in honour of their late mentor. He was also mentioned in the next-to-last choral verse of George Michael's record, "John & Elvis are Dead", featured on his album, Patience.

In 1995, certain artists including Madonna, Stevie Wonder, Speech of the group Arrested Development and Gaye's own daughter Nona, paid tribute to Gaye with the MTV-assisted tribute album, Inner City Blues: The Music of Marvin Gaye, which also included a documentary of the same name that aired on MTV. In 1999, R&B artists such as D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, Brian McKnight and Will Downing paid their respects to Gaye in a tribute album, Marvin Is 60. In October 2001, an all-star cover of "What's Going On", produced by Jermaine Dupri, was issued as a benefit single, credited to "Artists Against AIDS Worldwide". The single, which was a reaction to the tragedy of the September 11, 2001 attacks as well as to the AIDS crisis, featured contributions from a plethora of stars, including Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Mariah Carey, Destiny's Child, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, Nelly Furtado, Alicia Keys, Aaron Lewis of the rock group StainD, Nas, *NSYNC, P. Diddy, ?uestlove of The Roots, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani . The "What's Going On" cover also featured Nona, who sang one of the song's memorable lines, Father, father/we don't need to escalate.

In 1987, Marvin was inducted posthumously to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with Marvin's first wife Anna Gordy and son Marvin III accepting for Marvin. He was later given his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990. In 1996, he was posthumously awarded with the Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement Award and was honored in song by admirers Annie Lennox and Seal.

Throughout his long career, Gaye scored a total of forty-one Top 40 hit singles on Billboard's Pop Singles chart between 1963 and 2001, sixty top forty R&B singles chart hits from 1962 to 2001, eighteen Top 10 pop singles on the pop chart, thirty-eight Top 10 singles on the R&B chart (according to latest figures from Joel Whitburns Top R&B/Hip-Hop Singles: 1942-2004, 2004), three number-one pop hits and thirteen number-one R&B hits and tied with Michael Jackson in total as well as the fourth biggest artist of all-time to spend the most weeks at the number-one spot on the R&B singles chart (52 weeks). In all, Gaye produced a total of sixty-seven singles on the Billboard charts in total spanning five decades including five posthumous releases.

The year a remix of Marvin's "Let's Get It On" was released to urban adult contemporary radio, "Let's Get It On" was certified gold by the RIAA for sales in excess of 500,000 units, making it the best-selling single of all time on Motown in the United States. Gaye's " I Heard It Through the Grapevine" holds the title of the best-selling international Motown single of all time, with high sales explained by a re-release in Europe following a Levi's 501 Jeans commercial in 1986.

In 2005, rock group A Perfect Circle released "What's Going On" as part of an anti-war CD titled eMOTIVe. The next year, it was announced that rock group the Strokes was going to cover Marvin's " Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" on their next album. In October of 2005, a discussion was delivered at Marvin's hometown of Washington, D.C.'s City Council to change the name of a park located at Marvin's childhood neighbourhood from Watts Branch Park to Marvin Gaye Park and was soon offered so for $5 million to make the name change a reality. The park was renamed on April 2, 2006 on what would've been Marvin's sixty-seventh birthday.

A documentary about Gaye's life and death - What's Going On: The Marvin Gaye Story - was a UK/PBS USA co-production, directed by Jeremy Marre.

In February of 2006, production on an independent film, titled Sexual Healing, a biopic about Gaye's later years, was announced. It was to have been a full-scale biopic of Gaye, but Motown refused to license rights to its Marvin Gaye catalog. It is to start filming in May 2006, starring Jesse L. Martin. Recently news has been made about another Gaye biopic, titled Marvin - The Life Story of Marvin Gaye, being set for production also later this year with singer Roberta Flack supervising on the music and is said to be a full-scale biopic of Gaye . A play in Marvin's hometown of Washington, D.C. about the singer is currently playing.


U.S. and UK Top Ten Singles

The following singles reached the Top Ten of either the United States pop singles chart or the United Kingdom pop singles chart.

  • 1963: " Pride & Joy" (US #10)
  • 1964: " How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" (US #6)
  • 1965: " I'll Be Doggone" (US #8)
  • 1965: " Ain't That Peculiar" (US #8)
  • 1967: " Your Precious Love" (with Tammi Terrell) (US #5)
  • 1967: " If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" (with Tammi Terrell) (US #10)
  • 1968: " Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (with Tammi Terrell) (US #8)
  • 1968: " You're All I Need to Get By" (with Tammi Terrell) (US #7)
  • 1968: " I Heard It through the Grapevine" (US #1; UK #1)
  • 1969: " The Onion Song" (with Tammi Terrell) (UK #9)
  • 1969: " Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" (US #4; UK #5)
  • 1969: " Abraham, Martin & John" (UK #9)
  • 1969: " That's The Way Love Is" (US #7)
  • 1971: " What's Going On" (US #2)
  • 1971: " Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (US #4)
  • 1971: " Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (US #9)
  • 1972: " Trouble Man" (US #7)
  • 1973: " Let's Get It On" (US #1)
  • 1974: " You Are Everything" (with Diana Ross) (UK #5)
  • 1977: " Got To Give It Up" (US #1; UK #7)
  • 1982: " Sexual Healing" (US #3; UK #4)

Top Ten Albums

The following albums reached the Top Ten on either the United States pop albums chart or the United Kingdom pop albums chart.

  • 1971: What's Going On (U.S. #6)
  • 1973: Let's Get It On (U.S. #2)
  • 1973: Diana & Marvin (w/Diana Ross) (UK #6)
  • 1974: Marvin Gaye Live! (U.S. #8)
  • 1976: I Want You (U.S. #4)
  • 1977: Live at the London Palladium (U.S. #3)
  • 1982: Midnight Love (U.S. #7; UK #10)
  • 1994: The Very Best of Marvin Gaye (UK #3)
  • 2000: Marvin Gaye Love Songs (UK #8)

Sound clips

  • "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" —
    • Released as a single in 1968 from In the Groove, this single was the best-selling Motown single of the 1960s. - 1.2 MB
  • "What's Going On" —
    • Released as a single in 1971 from What's Going On, one of Marvin Gaye's best-known recordings. - 691 KB
  • "Let's Get It On" —
    • Marvin Gaye's popular #1 1973 single from the album Let's Get It On - 208 KB
  • "Sexual Healing" —
    • The last major single released before his death, from the album Midnight Love - 232 KB
  • Problems playing the files? See media help.
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