Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye remains as one of the most forward-thinking and influential soul musicians of all time.
Although he began his storied career in the Nation’s Capital as a doo-wop crooner, he would find fame at the iconic Motown Records label before later becoming a global sensation. NewsOne celebrates the life of Marvin Gaye, who would have turned 74 years of age today.
Gaye was born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. in Washington, D.C. to his minister father, Marvin Sr., and mother Alberta. Gaye later added the “e” to his name based on Motown’s suggestion. Along with his five siblings, Gaye lived his formative teen years in the city’s Deanwood section. He began singing at the age of four at the Pentecostal church he attended with his family.
Although his father was deeply religious, Gaye would often have to endure brutal beatings and severe punishment. The abuse later led to rebellion, and Gaye would drop out of high school to join several doo-wop vocal groups in the city. At 17, he enlisted in the United States Air Force but was shortly discharged over disobedience and other matters.
See Marvin Sr. and Jr. in rare interview below:
Gaye’s failed military bid led him back to D.C., and he formed a quartet with best friend Reese Palmer called the “Marquees.” Musician Bo Diddley was instrumental in getting the Marquees noticed, and they were signed to a Columbia Records subsidiary. Although the Marquees didn’t make a splash on the charts, the signing wasn’t entirely fruitless. Later, the group met Harvey Fuqua, co-founders of the Moonglows. Fuqua signed the Marquees and changed their name to Harvey and The Moonglows, moving to Chicago to work another Columbia subsidiary.
After the group disbanded, Gaye joined Fuqua in Detroit and worked for Anna Records (a precursor for Motown) as a handyman and odd jobs employee. However, it was a chance meeting with Motown CEO Berry Gordy that turned the tides of Gaye’s career for the better. After hearing Gaye sing at his house, Gordy joined a joint contract agreement with Fuqua and signed him to the label’s Tamla subsidiary.
Working as a session player and drummer, Gaye initially wanted to sing jazz. He would release his first album in 1961 called “The Soulful Moods Of Marvin Gaye” but the album was not a success. He returned to playing drums as a session musician, but things moved up for him in 1962. Gaye would release a string of top ten R&B singles and released an album with singer Mary Wells titled “Together” in 1964. Although the album was a hit, it would be the last for the successful duo.
In 1967, Motown paired him with singer Tammi Terrell and together they made magic. Singles such as “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and “You’re All I Need To Get By” made them into superstars. Terrell would later suffer a brain illness and couldn’t continue recording at a high level. Gaye forged ahead with his career, releasing his album “M.P.G.” It was his first successful album.
Terrell died in June of 1970, prompting Gaye to leave the music industry behind for a moment. This decision led to the troubled artist to record one of his most poignant and significant works in the “What’s Going On” album. Gordy and Motown initially resisted the record because of its political messages and themes, but it exploded on the charts. Released in 1971, nearly a year after it was recorded, the success carried over for the release of the “Trouble Man” soundtrack in 1972, the “Let’s Get It On” album in 1973, and sultry “I Want You” record.
1978’s “Here My Dear” album would signal the end of Gaye’s relationship with Motown and the start of his own personal downward spiral. With financial troubles, an ugly divorce case with ex-wife Anna Gordy and maintaining his current marriage with Janis Hunter, Gaye turned to drugs to quiet the din around him. Exiled to Europe to avoid jail time for owed taxes, Gaye toiled about and tried to kick the habit. In 1982, he would release the huge-selling “Midnight Love” album, his first record since leaving Motown. The record spawned the massive hit “Sexual Healing,” catapulting Gaye back into the spotlight.
Still struggling with his past demons, Gaye would perform his gripping rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1983 NBA All-Star Game at The Forum. After a brief and well-received tour, Gaye would move back home with his parents in Los Angeles. The move jump-started old tensions between Gaye and his father. Reportedly arguing over business documents, Gaye’s father fatally shot his son April 1, 1 1984, just a day short of his 45th birthday.
Although Gaye’s life ended tragically, the amazing body of work he’s left behind still serves as an inspiration to singers and songwriters the world over. Without Gaye, there is no “neo-soul.” Without Gaye, there is no “quiet storm.” Without Gaye, several artists who enjoy success today by being bare and vulnerable would not have a platform to express their art. By many accounts, Marvin Gaye remains one of the most dynamic vocalists of modern times and his silky vocals are sorely missed.
Happy Birthday and Rest In Powerful Peace To Marvin Gaye!