Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


GAYE, Marvin

(b Marvin Pentz Gaye, 2 April '39, Washington DC; d 1 April '84) Singer, star of black pop and one of the greatest crossover acts of his generation. Father was clergyman; he sang in church, then doo-wop group the Rainbows (incl. Don Covay) at 15; won talent contest with Harvey Fuqua's 'The Ten Commandments Of Love' (Fuqua was the judge), joined USAF at father's behest; one source says he was invalided out for psychological reasons. The Rainbows became the Marquees, recorded for OKeh; he renewed friendship with Fuqua, whose Moonglows were still recording for Chess; Gaye joined the group, then went to Detroit with Fuqua and both ended up with Tamla/Motown, married sisters of Berry Gordy. Gaye was session drummer on early hits by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles; pop/R&B hits began with prophetic 'Stubborn Kind Of Fellow' '62 (backup by Martha and the Vandellas). He was versatile from the start: hits incl. dance craze 'Hitch Hike' '63, twelve-bar blues 'Can I Get A Witness' '63, rocker 'Baby Don't You Do It' '64, romantic and sensual ballads: 'How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You' '65; biggest of '60s were 'I Heard It Through The Grapevine' (no. 1), 'Too Busy Thinking About My Baby' (no. 4) '68--9. First LP was Soulful Mood '61; others: That Stubborn Kinda Fellow '63, How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You '65, Moods Of Marvin Gaye '66, In The Groove '68, M.P.G. and That's The Way Love Is '69. Also had top 20 duet hits with Mary Wells '64 (LP Together '64), Kim Weston '67, but they both left Motown; then nine top 50 hits with lovely Tammi Terrell '67--70 incl. 'Your Precious Love', 'Ain't Nothing Like The Real Thing', 'You're All I Need To Get By'; LPs with her United and You're All I Need '67, Easy '69. Terrell, b '46 in Philadelphia, made own LP Irresistible '69, d 16 March '70 of a brain tumour. Of Gaye's three pop chart entries in '70 only 'The End Of Our Road' made the top 40, but much more was to come: he reinvented himself as an album artist.

Apart from being devastated by Terrell's death, he was better at starting trends than being told what to do, and understood that an album should be more than two hits and ten bits of filler: he had trouble with Motown management (it is thanks partly to his efforts that other artists like Stevie Wonder got latitude for their projects); he avoided TV, rarely performed live and sometimes didn't show up; used drugs and had trouble with the tax authorities. Meanwhile he came back '71 with song cycle/concept album What's Going On: no. 6 LP incl. no. 2 title track, 'Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)' and 'Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)', both top ten. No. 14 LP Trouble Man '72 had ten instrumental tracks, three vocals incl. top ten title single; Let's Get It On '73 was no. 2 LP with no. 1 hit title track; duet LP with Diana Ross Diana And Marvin was no. 26 with three hit singles; two-disc Marvin Gaye Live At The London Palladium '77 was no. 3 hit album with no. 1 single 'Got To Give It Up'. After a stormy 14-year marriage to Anna Gordy he was ordered by a judge to give her royalties on an album; he filed bankruptcy, made uneven two-disc Here, My Dear '79: she considered a lawsuit for invasion of privacy. He had married second wife Janise (daughter of Slim Gaillard) '77; she left him for Teddy Pendergrass. In Our Lifetime '81 was no. 32 LP; he switched to Columbia; Midnight Love '82 incl. 'Sexual Healing': after many nominations he now won a Grammy for 'Best R&B Performance, Male' with a no. 3 pop hit, pursued by categories to the end: he was shot to death by his father during a quarrel. Dream Of A Lifetime '85, Romantically Yours '86 issued by Columbia. A troubled, greatly talented man who created a lasting body of work.