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Spotlight Artist - Marvin Gaye

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Marvin Gaye - 60's

Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye was born at Freedman's Hospital in Washington, D.C and was the first son and second eldest of four children to minister Rev. Marvin Pentz Gay Sr. and schoolteacher/housekeeper Alberta Cooper. Sisters Jeanne and Zeola, younger brother Frankie and Marvin lived in the segregated section of Washington, D.C.'s Deanwood neighborhood in the northeastern section of the city. As a teen, he caddied at Norbeck Country Club in Olney, Maryland. Gaye'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 and Pentecostalism. As a child growing up in his father's church, Marvin started singing and playing instruments in the choir. During his time in high school, Marvin began listening to doo-wop and joined the DC Tones as a drummer. After dropping out of Cardozo High School, Gaye joined the United States Air Force. After faking mental illness, he was discharged because he refused to follow orders.

After dropping out of the Air Forces in 1957, Gaye began his music career in several doo wop groups, settling on The Marquees, a popular D.C. group. With Bo Diddley, The Marquees released a single, "Wyatt Earp", in 1957 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, The Contours, Martha and the Vandellas, The Marvelettes and others, most notably playing drums on The Marvelettes' 1961 hit, "Please Mr. Postman" and Little Stevie Wonder's live version of 1963 hit, "Fingertips Pt. 2", both singles reached the number one spot of the pop singles chart.

After starting his recording career at Motown, he changed his name from Marvin Gay to Marvin Gaye, adding the 'e' to separate himself from his father's name, to stop ongoing gossip about his sexuality, and to imitate his idol, Sam Cooke, who also added an 'e' to his last name.  Marvin had wanted to record for the label but Motown president Berry Gordy had apprehensions about recording for the singer due to the fact that Marvin was not used to following orders on what the label wanted for him to do. According to a VH-1 documentary, Marvin's then-girlfriend and Berry's sister Anna Gordy, convinced Berry to sign Marvin after Berry agreed to let him record a contemporary pop record of jazz-styled ballads and standards.

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, Maxine Powell, though the singer did take Powell's advice on not performing with his eyes closed, as if "to appear that he wasn't asleep"[8]. In June of 1961, Gaye issued his first solo recording, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, which was the first album issued by the Motown record label besides The Miracles' Hi... We're The Miracles Featuring Broadway standards and jazz-rendered show tunes with few rock/R&B-oriented tunes, the record failed to chart. After arguing over direction of his career with Gordy, Gaye eventually agreed to conform to record the more R&B-rooted sounds of his label mates and contemporaries issuing three singles that were written by Gordy. His first single release, "Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide", built upon a Ray Charles vibe, failed to chart as did the follow-ups, "Sandman" and "A Soldier's Plea", each released in 1962. Ironically, Gaye would find his first success as a co-songwriter on the Marvelettes' 1962 hit, "Beechwood 4-5789". Finally in the fall of 1962, the single, "Stubborn Kind of Fellow", brought Gaye success on the R&B chart. The record, co-written by Gaye and produced by friend William "Mickey" Stevenson, featuring Martha and the Vandellas (then known as The Vells, the group would sing background on Marvin's 1963 album, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow), was an autobiographical jab at Gaye's nonchalant moody behavior, became a top ten hit on the Hot R&B Songs chart.

The single would be followed by his first Top 40 singles "Hitch Hike", "Pride and Joy" and "Can I Get a Witness", all of which were charted successes for Gaye in 1963. The success continued with the 1964 singles "You Are a Wonderful One" (which featured background work by The Supremes), "Try It Baby" (which featured backgrounds from The Temptations), "Baby Don't You Do It" and "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", which became his signature song. During this early success, Gaye contributed to writing Martha and the Vandellas' 1964 smash, "Dancing in the Street". His work with Smokey Robinson on the 1966 album, Moods of Marvin Gaye, spawned two consecutive top ten singles in "I'll Be Doggone" and "Ain't That Peculiar", both of which became the singer's first Billboard charted number-one hits of his career peaking at the top spot on the R&B singles chart. Marvin's early success granted him teen idol status as he became a favorite on the teen-based shows, American Bandstand, Shindig!, Hullaballoo and The Mike Douglas Show, he also became one of the few Motown artists to perform at the Copacabana. A live album from the Copacabana show wouldn't be issued for three decades.

    A number of Gaye's hits for Motown were duets with female artists, such as Kim Weston and Mary Wells; the first Gaye/Wells album, 1964's Together, was Gaye's first charting album. However, it was Marvin's work with Tammi Terrell that became the most popular and memorable. Terrell and Gaye had a good rapport and their first album together, 1967's United, birthed the massive hits "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (later covered by Diana Ross and more recently, by former Doobie Brothers singer, Michael McDonald) 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 on stage while they were performing at the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) homecoming in Hampton, Virginia (located in Virginia's Tidewater region) (not at Hampden-Sydney College, located in mid-state 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 song "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" , previously recorded in 1967 by Gladys Knight & The Pips, became his first #1 hit and the biggest selling single in Motown history to that point with four million copies sold, he refused to acknowledge his success, feeling that it was undeserved. His work with producer Norman Whitfield, who produced "Grapevine", resulted in similar success with the singles "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" and "That's the Way Love Is". Meanwhile, Gaye's marriage with Anna was crumbling and he continued to feel irrelevant, singing endlessly about love while popular music underwent a revolution and began addressing social and political issues. Wanting creative control, Marvin sought to produce singles for Motown session band The Originals, whose Gaye-produced hit singles, "Baby I'm For Real" and "The Bells", brought needed success.

Tammi Terrell died of a brain tumor on March 16, 1970. Devastated by her death, Marvin was so emotional at her funeral that he'd talk to the remains as if she were going to respond. Gaye subsequently went into seclusion, and did not perform in concert for nearly two years. Gaye told friends that he had thought of quitting music, at one point trying out for the American football team the Detroit Lions (where he met acquaintances Mel Farr and Lem Barney), but after the success of his productions with the Originals, Gaye was confident to make his own musical statement. 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". 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 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 spiritual), 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".

After the success of "What's Going On," Motown renegotiated a new contract with Marvin that allowed him creative control, the deal was worth $1 million, making Gaye the highest-earning black artist in music history at the time. Around the same time, Marvin moved from Detroit to Los Angeles in 1972 after being offered a chance to write the score to a blaxploitation film. Writing, arranging and producing for the movie Trouble Man, Marvin issued the soundtrack and "title song" in 1972 and the soundtrack as well as the single became hits with the single peaking at the top ten in early 1973. After going over a difficult period of where to go next in his career, Marvin decided to switch topics from social to sensual with the release of "Let's Get It On" in 1973. The album was a rare departure for the singer for its blatant sensual appeal 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 standout tracks such as "Come Get to This", "You Sure Love to Ball" and "Distant Lover", Let's Get It On became Marvin Gaye's biggest selling album during his lifetime, surpassing What's Going On. Also, with the title track, Gaye broke his own record at Motown by surpassing the sales of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine". The album would be later hailed as "a record unparalleled 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. Gaye refused to sing if he couldn't smoke in the studio, so 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 Top 20 hit singles "You're a Special Part of Me and "My Mistake (Was to Love You)" as well as the UK versions of The Stylistics's "You Are Everything" at #5 and "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)" at #25, respectively.

In 1976, Gaye 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 towards more funky material.
The cover of Marvin Gaye's 1981 album, In Our Lifetime where Marvin openly complained of Motown's rush-release of the album leaving to his exit out of the label a year later.
The cover of Marvin Gaye's 1981 album, In Our Lifetime where Marvin openly complained of Motown's rush-release of the album leaving to his exit out of the label a year later.

In 1977, Gaye released the seminal funk single, "Got to Give It Up", which went to number-one on the pop, R&B and dance singles charts simultaneously and helped his Live at the London Palladium album sell over two million copies and become 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 an invasion of privacy against Marvin, though she later reversed that decision. That album tanked on the charts (despite its later critical reevaluation) however, and Gaye struggled to sell a record. By 1979, besieged 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 promised highlight of 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 (thus muting its intended irony). A special edition of the album was released in early 2008.

After being offered a chance to clear things out in Ostend, Belgium, he permanently moved there in 1981. Still 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, releasing Midnight Love that year. The album included Marvin's final big hit, "Sexual Healing" (sample (help·info)). The song gave Gaye his first two Grammy Awards (Best R&B Male Vocal Performance, 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. In February 1983, Gaye gave an emotional performance of The Star-Spangled Banner at the NBA All-Star Game, held at The Forum in Inglewood, California, accompanied by a drum machine. In March, 1983, he gave his final performance in front of his old mentor and label for Motown 25, performing "What's Going On". He then embarked on a U.S. tour to support his album. The tour, ending in August 1983, was plagued by health problems and Gaye's bouts with depression, and fear over an alleged attempt on his life.

When 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. Ironically, Marvin was killed by a gun he had offered to his father. Marvin Sr. was sentenced to six years of probation after pleading guilty to manslaughter. Charges of first-degree murder were dropped after doctors discovered Marvin Sr. had a brain tumor. Spending 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 was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990.

Gaye married twice. His first marriage was to Berry Gordy Jr.'s sister, Anna Gordy (she was seventeen years his senior), who inspired some of Gaye's earlier hits including "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" and "You Are a Wonderful One". Gaye and Anna Gordy adopted a son, Marvin Pentz Gaye III (born in November 1965). Troubled from the start, the marriage imploded after Gaye began courting Janis Hunter (seventeen years younger), the seventeen-year-old daughter of hipster jazz icon Slim Gaillard, 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 married after Marvin's divorce from Anna was finalized. Shortly after their October 1977 wedding in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, however, they separated due to growing tensions between them, finally divorcing in February 1981.

In 1982 Gaye became involved with Lady Edith Foxwell, former wife of the British movie director Ivan Foxwell, and spent much time with her at Sherston, her Wiltshire estate. At the time Lady Edith, born into the Irish aristocracy, ran the then highly fashionable Embassy Club and was referred to in the media as "the queen of London cafe society." The story of their affair was told by writer Stan Hey in the April 2004 issue of GQ magazine. The report quoted writer/composer Bernard J. Taylor as saying he was told by Lady Edith that she and Gaye had discussed marriage before he was killed by his father.

After Gaye's death, two of his children followed in his footsteps and joined the entertainment field: his oldest 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 actress and a singer.

Even before Gaye died, tributes had been made to him. 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 Nightshift as did the Violent Femmes in their 1988 song "See My Ships". Motown alum Diana Ross also paid tribute with her Top 10 pop single "Missing You" (1985), as did Teena Marie, also a former Motown artist, with her album track "My Dear Mr. Gaye". The soul band Maze featuring Frankie Beverly recorded the tribute song, "Silky Soul" (1989), in honor of their late mentor. He was also mentioned in the next-to-last choral verse of George Michael's record, "John and Elvis Are Dead", featured on his album, "Patience."

In 1992, the Israeli artist Izahr Asdot dedicated to Gaye his song "Eesh Hashokolad" [chocolate man]. 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, Backstreet Boys, *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. In 2004, Rolling Stone Magazine ranked him #18 on their list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.

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 Ten 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 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 neighborhood 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. Gaye is referenced as one of the supernatural acts to appear in the short story and later television version of Stephen King's Nightmares and Dreamscapes in "You Know They Got a Hell of a Band."

A Marvin Gaye biopic, titled Marvin - The Marvin Gaye Story, is being set for production in 2008 by Producer Duncan McGillivray (Chairman of Film by Humans Production Co., LLC) with F. Gary Gray, the director of The Italian Job as the director and singer Roberta Flack supervising on the music[16]. It will be a full-scale, $40 million dollar biopic of the entire life story of Gaye with all the key Motown and family members in Marvin's life. Another biopic, which was currently in the works, titled Sexual Healing, is set to start filming in April of this year with Jesse L. Martin playing Gaye, with Sopranos star James Gandolfini playing Marvin's mentor Freddy Couseart. Gandolfini recently announced that he would be producing the film through his Attaboy Films company.

U.S. and UK Top Ten Singles

  * 1963: "Pride and 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" (US #5)
  * 1967: "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" (US #10)
  * 1968: "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (US #8)
  * 1968: "You're All I Need to Get By" (US #7)
  * 1968: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (US #1; UK #1)
  * 1969: "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" (US #4; UK #5)
  * 1969: "The Onion Song" (UK #9)
  * 1969: "That's The Way Love Is" (US #7)
  * 1970: "Abraham, Martin & John" (UK #9)
  * 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" (UK #5)
  * 1977: "Got to Give It Up" (US #1; UK #7)
  * 1982: "Sexual Healing" (US #3; UK #4)

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