April 2, 1939 - April 1, 1984
One of Motown Records' most successful artists, Gaye was married to Anna Gordy, who was the sister of Motown founder Berry Gordy. The singer met Anna in 1960 after the disbandment of the Doo-Wop group Harvey and the Moonglows led him to follow leader Harvey Fuqua to Detroit. He began working as a drummer for Anna Records, a short-lived label run by the Gordy sisters (Anna and Gwen) along with songwriter Billy Davis.
Although Anna was 17 years older than Gaye, the pair married in June of 1963, a month after the singer released his first top-10 single, "Pride and Joy."
The marriage ended in divorce, and Gaye named his 1976 album Here, My Dear after agreeing that royalties from the album would be used to pay alimony to Anna. Even though Gaye knew he would not see any money from the album, he still gave it his best effort.
Early in his career, Gaye was teamed with female Motown artists including Mary Wells and Kim Weston. It was his match with Terrell, however, that made magic. The duo recorded several hits together, often penned by the songwriting team Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, such as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough
," "Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing
" and "Your Precious Love."
Ashford recalled the duo's chemistry in an interview with Tavis Smiley: "The two of them together, that blend, I mean, it was like ice cream and cookies or whatever you want to call it, you know, just a good blend."
Little did they know, their last concert performance together would be at a Homecoming celebration at the Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia in 1967. Terrell collapsed onstage as Gaye rushed to catch her, a result of a brain tumor that would take her life three years later and leave Gaye devastated. According to John Pumilia's article "Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell: Perfect Together," Gaye recalled: "I think maybe what scared me the most was that I was so angered by the senselessness of it all. I had to accept that it was God's will, but it was difficult to understand at the time. I grieved for years, and the fact that deep down inside I hated performing with somewhat of a passion made it even easier for me to stop. After taking time off, I developed a real fear of performing and it was even more difficult to come back."
One of his last public performances was singing the US national anthem at the 1983 NBA All-Star game. At the time, performers were expected to give a restrained and traditional performance when singing the national anthem, but Gaye delivered an emotional performance similar to other songs he would sing in concert. This caused some controversy, but the idea of personalizing the national anthem caught on, and singers often add personal touches to the song even today.
Bertrand - Paris, France, for all above
One day before the singer's 45th birthday, an argument between Marvin Jr. and Marvin Sr. escalated into violence. The reasons behind the confrontation are murky. Some claim it was the conclusion of a decades-long period of abuse that the singer endured from his father. Others say depressed Marvin Jr. used his father's rage as a way to commit suicide without actually having to pull the trigger himself. Regardless, on the night of April 1, 1984, Marvin Jr. was shot twice: once in the chest, once in the shoulder. Paramedics rushed him to the hospital, but his heart had stopped beating and attempts to resuscitate him failed. His funeral took place three days later at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los Angeles, with notable mourners including Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and Berry Gordy.
According to David Ritz's Divided Soul: The Life Of Marvin Gaye, Marvin Sr. died without any recollection of shooting his son. After a six-year suspended sentence and a five-year probation period for voluntary manslaughter, he lived the rest of his life in nursing homes in Southern California. He died on October 10, 1998 at the age of 84.
Motown founder Berry Gordy often called Gaye, "The truest artist I've ever known." In a 1994 interview with Harvey Kubernik, he added, "Whatever he was going through in his life he put on records. So if you want to know Marvin just listen to one of his records."
Gordy should know. As Gaye's boss at Tamla/Motown, as his brother-in-law (through his sister, Anna Gordy) and as his friend, Gordy had a complex and sometimes tumultuous relationship with Gaye throughout the singer's entire career. He elaborated in a Wall Street Journal interview: "It never mattered what people said about us on the outside. People who wrote articles and books got everything wrong all the time. According to them, Marvin and I were supposed to be the biggest enemies, that we were fighting all the time and that I was doing this and that to him. But within our company and within us, it was different."
Motown founder Berry Gordy has called Marvin Gaye's 1971 protest album, What's Going On, "the most prestigious record" the label ever released. Gordy was not so optimistic when he first got wind of Gaye's project years earlier. He thought it was another one of the singer's crazy schemes, like when he wanted to become a boxer or a professional football player. The making of the What's Going On album has become the stuff of legend with Gordy as the villain trying to block its release and Gaye as the hero threatening to never record with Motown again unless he relented.
Gordy admits it took him awhile to accept the idea but claims the stories are false. He told the Wall Street Journal in 2011, "Once he told me he wanted to awaken the minds of mankind, and I could see in his eyes how serious he was, I had to let him do it." He later added. "I thought those records would ruin him. Instead, they made him an icon."
According to Ben Edmonds' biography Marvin Gaye: What's Going On and the Last Days of the Motown Sound, Gaye's method of relaxation during recording sessions was notorious at the record label. Not only did he enjoy smoking marijuana, which he was certain was about to be legalized, he spent time brainstorming ideas for pot ads. Songwriter Elgie Stover remembers one particular gem: "Try the Marvin Redeye brand, friends and neighbors. No sticks, no seeds, no stems. Just clean, smooth smoke. Hear that guy laughing? He just sampled Marvin Redeye's private blend."
Not everyone at Motown was so easy-going about Gaye's habit. Russ Terrana (recording/mixing engineer) remembers an incident involving Diana Ross just before the two were set to record their 1973 duets album, Diana & Marvin:
"Well, as you've probably heard, Marvin liked to smoke a joint when he sang. So he's out in the studio happily puffing away and Diana comes into the control room in a huff 'I'm pregnant and I can't be out there while he's smoking that marijuana bla bla bla.' Marvin is sitting out in the studio in a chair, cool as can be, taking a hit now and then. So Berry (Gordy) gets on the talkback – the room suddenly very quiet – and says 'Uh, Marvin, Diana's pregnant and doesn't want you to be smoking a joint.' Marvin stopped for a second, looked up and said, 'Then I can't sing.' For the rest of the album, they'd come in separately. There was not a single moment when they actually sang together."
Marvin Gaye always knew he was destined for greatness, but at 17 years old he wasn't just thinking about singing; he was thinking about flying. As his home life became increasingly volatile, Gaye decided to escape to the United States Air Force and enlist as a Basic Airman. The reality of service and authority didn't match his romanticized vision of soaring the skies. He realized all too quickly that he didn't like peeling potatoes and certainly didn't like taking orders.
"I needed to see the world. I thought that's what the Air Force would be, but the Air Force was prison," author David Ritz quotes Gaye in his biography, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. The singer remembered writing his superior officer a letter detailing everything that was wrong with the Air Force. That didn't go over well.
After just eight months of duty, Gaye was desperate to be sent home. He disobeyed every order he could in an attempt to be kicked out. Eventually, he faked mental illness to get out of service with an honorable discharge in 1957.
Marvin Gaye never played an organized sport in his life, but he was convinced he could be a football star. He told biographer David Ritz: "You see, I had this fantasy: I was in the Super Bowl, with millions of people watching me on TV all over the world, as I made a spectacular leaping catch and sprinted for the winning touchdown."
In 1970, Gaye enlisted the help of friends to help him train and bulk up for a tryout with the Detroit Lions. It helped that these friends were players on the team – Lem Barney and Mel Farr.
Barney told the LA Times
: "There's no question that if he had started out at an early age like most of us, he could have been a fine ballplayer." He added, "Marvin had a lot of heart, a lot of will and stick-to-itiveness. He just didn't have the skills."
It wouldn't matter if he did, because he never got his tryout. Still a major music icon, Gaye was labeled a liability by Lions coach Joe Schmidt.
Barney and Farr can both be heard on Gaye's landmark protest song "What's Going On
In 1974, Marvin Gaye was coming back into the spotlight in more ways than one. He was embarking on his first tour since the tragic death of his duet partner Tammi Terrell four years earlier. Elsewhere, the singer was making a different kind of debut in the pages of a novel.
Elaine Jesmer, a former press agent who was closely associated with Motown, penned Number One With A Bullet, a trashy novel about the seedy underbelly of the record industry. Its main character, Daniel Stone, bears a striking resemblance to Gaye. Stone is a troubled singer who marries the sister of his boss at Finest Records (sound familiar?). What unfolds is a story of greed, violence and depravity. The similarities didn't escape Gaye, or Motown.
After the book's publication, Jesmer was effectively black-balled from the music industry, but she wasn't surprised.
In a 2010 interview with blogtalkradio's Stephanie Campbell, Jesmer claims that Gaye unwittingly contributed to the novel: "He would come and tell stories of something that had just happened and I would be so crazed by listening to this that I would go and write it into the book just as he said it had happened," she said.
Gaye gave his own side of the story in 1981 when Ebony magazine asked him how much of Jesmer's novel was fact and how much was fiction: "About 50-50. Elaine Jesmer pretended she was in love with me – or maybe she wasn't pretending – to extract information out of me so that she could write the book and, er, Daniel Stone [the hero] was supposed to be me. There was a lot of truth in it, but a lot of fiction also. Certainly I'm not an oralist. I'm a dominant sexual partner usually, but she made mention in the book of some sexual activity that is not my character. I'm not a whore; I'm promiscuous, yes, but very selective. That ought to make interesting reading!"
A Motown memorabilia collector from Detroit came across Marvin Gaye's passport from 1964 tucked inside an old record sleeve. He made the discovery after buying a collection of LPs and singles from the family of a deceased former Motown musician. During an appearance on the February 3, 2014 episode of PBS' Antiques Roadshow, the passport was valued at a minimum of $20,000 by the show's appraiser Laura Wooley.
Marvin Gaye's real last name was "Gay." However, he was a target of bullying in his young days as his father was a crossdresser. It was because of this, added with rumors of the singer's own homosexuality, that Marvin added an "e" to his last name when he became famous.
Marvin Gaye turned down the cover of Rolling Stone in 1982. The magazine offered to put the singer on its cover if he was interviewed, but he declined. Writer Nelson George explained to Mojo: "We were told that Marvin Gaye only wanted to be in magazines that his mother and brother would read, which meant Jet and Essence.