Today’s romancer is Marvin Gaye.
Marvin Gaye (/ɡeɪ/; born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr.; April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984) was an American singer-songwriter and musician. Gaye helped to shape the sound of Motown Records, first as an in house session player in the 1960s and later as a solo artist with a string of hits, including How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) and I Heard It Through the Grapevine, and duet recordings with Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell, later earning the titles Prince of Motown and Prince of Soul.
During the 1970s, he recorded the concept albums What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On and became one of the first artists in Motown to break away from the reins of his production company.
Gaye’s later recordings influenced several R&B subgenres, such as quiet storm and neo-soul. Following a period in Europe as a tax exile in the early 1980s, Gaye released the 1982 Grammy Award-winning hit Sexual Healing and the Midnight Love album.
On April 1, 1984, Gaye’s father, Marvin Gay Sr., fatally shot him at their house in the West Adams district of Los Angeles. Since his death, many institutions have posthumously bestowed Gaye with awards and other honors—including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Following his return, Gaye and good friend Reese Palmer formed the vocal quartet The Marquees. The group performed in the D.C. area and soon began working with Bo Diddley, who assigned the group to Columbia subsidiary OKeh Records after failure to get the group signed to his own label, Chess. The group’s sole single, Wyatt Earp, failed to chart and the group was soon dropped from the label. Gaye began composing music during this period.
Moonglows co-founder Harvey Fuqua later hired The Marquees as employees. Under Fuqua’s direction, the group changed its name to Harvey and the New Moonglows, and relocated to Chicago. The group recorded several sides for Chess in 1959, including the song Mama Loocie, which was Gaye’s first lead vocal recording. The group found work as session singers for established acts such as Chuck Berry, singing on the hits Back in the U.S.A. and Almost Grown.
In 1960, the group disbanded. Gaye relocated to Detroit with Fuqua where he signed with Tri-Phi Records as a session musician, playing drums on several Tri-Phi releases. Gaye performed at Motown president Berry Gordy’s house during the holiday season in 1960. Impressed by the singer, Gordy sought Fuqua on his contract with Gaye. Fuqua agreed to sell part of his interest in his contract with Gaye. Shortly afterwards, Gaye signed with Motown subsidiary Tamla.
When Gaye signed with Tamla, he pursued a career as a performer of jazz music and standards, having no desire to become an R&B performer. Before the release of his first single, Gaye was teased about his surname, with some jokingly asking, “Is Marvin Gay?” Gaye changed his surname by adding an e, in the same way as did Sam Cooke. Author David Ritz wrote that Gaye did this to silence rumours of his sexuality, and to put more distance between Gaye and his father.
Gaye released his first single, “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide,” in May 1961, with the album The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, following a month later. Gaye’s initial recordings failed commercially. Gaye spent most of 1961 performing session work as a drummer for artists such as The Miracles and The Marvelettes, and was paid $5 (US$39 in 2015 dollars) a week to play drums for the Miracles and blues artist Jimmy Reed. While Gaye took some advice on performing with his eyes open (having been accused of appearing as though he were sleeping), he refused to attend grooming school courses at the John Roberts Powers School for Social Grace in Detroit because of his unwillingness to comply with its orders, something he later regretted.
In 1962, Gaye found success as co-writer of the Marvelettes hit, Beechwood 4-5789. His first solo hit, Stubborn Kind of Fellow, was later released that September, reaching number 8 on the R&B chart and number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100. Gaye reached the top 50 with the dance song, Hitch Hike, peaking at number 30 on the Hot 100. Pride and Joy became Gaye’s first top ten single after its release in 1963.
The three singles and songs from the 1962 sessions were included on Gaye’s second album, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow. Starting in October of the year, Gaye performed as part of the Motortown Revue, a series of concert tours headlined at the north and south eastern coasts of the United States as part of the chitlin’ circuit. A filmed performance of Gaye at the Apollo Theater took place in June 1963. Later that October, Tamla issued the live album, Marvin Gaye Recorded Live on Stage. Can I Get a Witness became one of Gaye’s early international hits.
In 1964, Gaye recorded a successful duet album with singer Mary Wells titled Together, which reached 42 on the pop album chart. The album’s two-sided single, including Once Upon a Time and What’s the Matter With You Baby, each reach the top 20. Gaye’s next solo hit, How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You), which Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote for him, reached number 6 on the Hot 100 and reached the top 50 in the UK. Gaye started getting TV exposure around this time, on shows such as American Bandstand. Also in 1964, he appeared in the concert film, The T.A.M.I. Show. Gaye had two number one R&B singles in 1965 with the Miracles-composed I’ll Be Doggone and Ain’t That Peculiar. Both songs became million-sellers.
After scoring a hit duet, It Takes Two with Kim Weston, Gaye began working with Tammi Terrell on a series of duets, mostly composed by Ashford & Simpson, including Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Your Precious Love, Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing, and You’re All I Need to Get By.
“I Heard It through the Grapevine” was recorded by Gaye in April 1967, several months before Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded it. The song features a horror-based Wurlitzer piano solo, percussion, and horns. Gaye’s recording of it paved the way for what later became “psychedelic soul”.
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In October 1967, Terrell collapsed in Gaye’s arms during a performance in Farmville, Virginia. Terrell was subsequently rushed to Farmville’s Southside Community Hospital, where doctors discovered she had a malignant tumour in her brain. The diagnosis ended Terrell’s career as a live performer, though she continued to record music under careful supervision. Despite the presence of hit singles such as Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing and You’re All I Need to Get By, Terrell’s illness caused problems with recording, and led to multiple operations to remove the tumor. Gaye was reportedly devastated by Terrell’s sickness and became disillusioned with the record business.
In late 1968, Gaye’s recording of I Heard It Through the Grapevine became Gaye’s first to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100. It also reached the top of the charts in other countries, selling over four million copies. However, Gaye felt the success was something he “didn’t deserve” and that he “felt like a puppet—Berry’s puppet, Anna’s puppet….” Gaye followed it up with Too Busy Thinking About My Baby and That’s the Way Love Is, which reached the top ten on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1969. That year, his album M.P.G. became his first number one R&B album. Gaye produced and co-wrote two hits for The Originals during this period, including Baby I’m For Real and The Bells.
On March 16, 1970, Tammi Terrell died from brain cancer, and Gaye attended her funeral. Following this, he went into prolonged seclusion from the music business. After a period of depression, Gaye sought out a position on a professional football team, the Detroit Lions, where he later befriended Mel Farr and Lem Barney. It was eventually decided that Gaye would not be allowed to try out owing to fears of possible injuries that could have affected his music career.
What’s Going On and subsequent success
Main articles: What’s Going On (Marvin Gaye album) and Let’s Get It On
On June 1, 1970, Gaye returned to Hitsville U.S.A., where he recorded his new composition What’s Going On, inspired by an idea from Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops after he witnessed an act of police brutality at an anti-war rally in Berkeley. Upon hearing the song, Berry Gordy refused its release due to his feelings of the song being “too political” for radio. Gaye responded by going on strike from recording until the label released the song. Released in 1971, it reached number one on the R&B charts within a month, staying there for five weeks. It also reached the top spot on Cashbox’s pop chart for a week and reached number two on the Hot 100 and the Record World chart, selling over two million copies.
After giving an ultimatum to record a full album to win creative control from Motown, Gaye spent ten days recording the What’s Going On album that March. Motown issued the album that May after Gaye remixed portions of the album in Hollywood. The album became Gaye’s first million-selling album launching two more top ten singles, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) and Inner City Blues. One of Motown’s first autonomous works, its theme and segue flow brought the concept album format to rhythm and blues. An AllMusic writer later cited it as “…the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices.” For the album, Gaye received two Grammy Award nominations and several NAACP Image Awards. The album also topped Rolling Stone’s year-end list as its album of the year. Billboard magazine named Gaye Trendsetter of the Year following the album’s success.
In 1971, Gaye signed a new deal with Motown worth $1 million (US$5,823,336 in 2015 dollars), making it the most lucrative deal by a black recording artist at the time. Gaye first responded to the new contract with the soundtrack and subsequent score, Trouble Man, released in late 1972.
In 1973, Gaye released the Let’s Get It On album. Its title track became Gaye’s second number one single on the Hot 100. The album subsequently stayed on the charts for two years and sold over three million copies. The album was later hailed as “a record unparalleled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy.” Other singles from the album included Come Get to This, which recalled Gaye’s early Motown soul sound of the previous decade, while the suggestive You Sure Love to Ball reached modest success but received tepid promotion due to the song’s sexually explicit content.
Marvin’s final duet project, Diana & Marvin, with Diana Ross, garnered international success. Responding to demand from fans and Motown, Gaye started his first tour in four years at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on January 4, 1974. The performance received critical acclaim and resulted in the release of the live album, Marvin Gaye Live! and its single, a live version of Distant Lover, an album track from Let’s Get It On.
The tour helped to increase Gaye’s reputation as a live performer. For a time, he was earning $10,000 a night (US$47,821 in 2015 dollars) for performances. Gaye toured throughout 1974 and 1975. A renewed contract with Motown allowed Gaye to build his own custom-made recording studio.
In October 1975, Gaye gave a performance at a UNESCO benefit concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall to support UNESCO’s African literacy drive, resulting in him being commended at the United Nations by then-Ambassador to Ghana Shirley Temple Black and Kurt Waldheim. Gaye’s next studio album, I Want You, followed in 1976 with the title track becoming a number-one R&B hit. That summer, Gaye embarked on his first European tour in a decade, starting off in England. In early 1977, Gaye issued the live album, Live at the London Palladium, which sold over two million copies thanks to the success of its studio song, Got to Give It Up, which became a number one hit.
Main article: Death of Marvin Gaye
At around 11:38 am (PST) on April 1, 1984, as Marvin was seated on his bed talking to his mother, Gaye’s father shot Marvin twice. The elder Gaye had been having a heated dispute with his wife, and Marvin had intervened on his mother’s behalf. The first shot, which entered the right side of Gaye’s chest, was fatal, having perforated his vital organs. Gaye was taken to the emergency room of the California Hospital Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead on arrival at 1:01 pm (PST). The gun Marvin Gaye Sr. used to shoot his son had been given to him by Gaye, as a Christmas present, to keep Gaye Sr. safe from intruders.
Following his funeral, Marvin was cremated, with part of his ashes spread near the Pacific Ocean. Gaye did not leave behind a will or an insurance policy at the time of his death. Gaye’s father pleaded no contest to a voluntary manslaughter charge and was sentenced to probation. He died of pneumonia in 1998. Marvin’s fans have held vigils for the singer at the final residence to celebrate the day of his birth.