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Marvin Gaye (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984), born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr., was an American singer-songwriter and musician whose career spanned more than two decades. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., he was the son of a storefront minister of a local Pentecostal church sect and grew up singing gospel in church revivals as a young child. Gaye branched out into secular music as a teenager, joining the doo-wop group The Marquees, after returning from an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force, before the group was hired by Harvey Fuqua to be Harvey & The Moonglows. Following the band’s separation in 1960, Gaye began working as a session drummer for the Detroit music label, Anna, before signing with Motown Records in 1961, adding an “e” to his surname.
Gaye was one of many who shaped the sound and success of Motown Records in the 1960s, becoming that label’s top-selling solo artist of that decade with a string of hits including “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “Ain’t That Peculiar”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” and his duet singles with singers such as Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell. Because of this, Gaye was given the titles, “The Prince of Motown” and “The Prince of Soul”. Following the death of Tammi Terrell in 1970, Gaye went into seclusion, emerging the following year with “What’s Going On” and its subsequent album, which helped to make him one of the first artists in Motown to break away from the reins of Motown’s production company to be his own artist.
What’s Going On and its 1973 follow-up, Let’s Get It On became among the first concept albums in R&B music. Gaye’s later music influenced the quiet storm, urban contemporary, slow jam and neo-soul music genres. After spending years as a European tax exile in the early 1980s, Gaye returned on the 1982 Grammy Award-winning hit, “Sexual Healing” and the Midnight Love album. After a violent argument with his father, he was shot dead by him on April 1, 1984.
Gaye was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Gaye also ranked high on music magazines’ lists, ranking at number 18 on the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time on the American music magazine, Rolling Stone, and he ranked number 20 on VH-1’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Gaye, who composed a three-octave vocal range, was subsequently ranked at number 6 on Rolling Stone’s list of the Greatest Singers of All Time in 2008.
Early recordings and initial success
Later in 1962, Gaye released his first charted hit, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow”, which peaked in the low top 50 of the Billboard Hot 100 and reached the top ten on the R&B side. Gaye’s first top 40 pop song, “Hitch Hike”, was soon followed by his first top-10 hit single, “Pride & Joy”. Other hit singles during this period including “Can I Get a Witness”, “You Are a Wonderful One” and “Try It Baby”. In 1964, he scored his first hit duets with singer Mary Wells including “Once Upon a Time”, which was later featured on the duo’s album, Together, which became Gaye’s first charted album. Gaye’s success grew the following year after three of his singles, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”, “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar”, reached the top-10 and sold a million copies. Gaye notched his next duet success late the following year with Kim Weston, on the song, “It Takes Two”.