Marvin Gaye (Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr.) (April 2, 1939 – April 1, 1984) was an African American pop, soul and R&B singer who gained international fame during the 1960s and 1970s as an artist on the Motown label. His best records are still highly regarded, and he is often cited as one of the finest singers of his era.
Along with Stevie Wonder, Gaye is notable for fighting the hitmaking but creatively restrictive Motown record-making process, in which performers and songwriters/record producers were generally kept in separate camps. Gaye forced Motown to release his 1971 album What's Going On, which is today hailed as one of the best soul albums of all time. Subsequent releases proved that Gaye, who had been a part-time songwriter for Motown artists during his early years with the label, could write and produce his own singles without having to rely on the Motown system. This achievement would pave the way for the successes of later self-sufficient singer-songwriter-producers in Black music, such as Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross, Babyface, and R. Kelly.
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Early life and career
Gaye was born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. (He later added the "e" to imitate Sam Cooke, who did the same) in Washington, D.C., the son of the Reverend Marvin Gay, Sr., an ordained minister in the House of God, a small, conservative sect, spun off from the Seventh Day Adventist denomination. The church, taking some elements of Pentecostalism and Orthodox Judaism, has very strict codes of conduct and does not celebrate any holidays. Gaye got his start singing in the church choir, later learning to play the piano and drums to escape from his physically abusive father.
After high school, Gaye joined the United States Air Force and then, after being discharged, joined several doo wop groups, settling on The Marquees, a popular local group in D.C.. With Bo Diddley, The Marquees released a single, "Wyatt Earp" in 1958 on Okeh, and were then recruited by Harvey Fuqua to become The Moonglows. "Mama Loocie", relased in 1959 on Chess Records, was Gaye's first single with the Moonglows. After a concert in Detroit, Michigan, Gaye was recruited for a solo career by Berry Gordy, Jr. of Motown Records.
Joining the Motown and Gordy families
As a session drummer and part-time songwriter, Gaye worked with The Miracles, The Contours, Martha & the Vandellas, and other Motown acts. Most notably, he is the drummer on Little Stevie Wonder's 1963 #1 hit "Fingertips--Pt. 2", and co-wrote Martha Reeves & the Vandellas' 1964 hit "Dancing in the Street" and The Marvelettes' 1965 hit "Beechwood 4–5789". Popular and well-liked around Motown, Gaye already carried himself in a sophisiticated, gentleman-like manner, and had little need of training from Motown's in-house Artist Development director Miss Maxine Powell. Not only part of the Motown family, he also became part of the Gordy family when he married Berry Gordy's sister Anna in 1961.
Marvin Gaye's first three Motown singles were all unsuccessful; he finally scored a minor hit with his fourth attempt, "Stubborn Kind of Fellow", in 1962. The single was co-written by Gaye and William "Mickey" Stevenson who created the title as a sly reference to the sometimes moody Gaye. 1963's "Hitch Hike" and "Can I Get a Witness" were also minor hits. "Pride & Joy" (1963) became a smash hit, but Gaye was discontented with the role he felt Motown Records kept him locked in, as a romantic balladeer and crooner, aiming always for chart success in the singles market. He wanted instead to be a pop singer in the vein of Nat King Cole or Frank Sinatra, but settled for a blend of the styles of those artists and performers such as Jackie Wilson and his role model Sam Cooke.
Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
A number of Gaye's hit singles for Motown were duets with female artists such as Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell; the first Gaye/Wells album, 1964's Together, was Gaye's first charting album. Terrell and Gaye in particular had a good rapport, and their first album together, 1967's United, birthed the massive hits "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" 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, they convincingly portrayed lovers on record.
On October 14, 1967, Terrell collapsed into Gaye's arms onstage while they were performing at the Hampton University homecoming in Virginia (contrary to popular belief, it was not Hampden-Sydney College, also in 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". Half of the songs on You're All I Need were actual Gaye/Terrell duets, but the other half were Terrell solo songs with Gaye's vocals overdubbed onto them. By the time on the final Gaye/Terrell album, Easy, in 1969, Terrell's vocals were performed mostly by Valerie Simpson.
Terrell's illness began a depression in Gaye; when his Norman Whitfield-produced "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" hit #1 on the US pop charts for seven weeks in 1968/1969 and became the biggest selling single in Motown history to that point, he refused to acknowledge his success, feeling that it was undeserved. Meanwhile, Gaye's marriage 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.
What's Going On
Tammi Terrell died of brain cancer on March 17 1970. Gaye subsequently went into self-seclusion, and did not record or perform for nearly two years. He tried various spirit-lifting diversions, including a short-lived attempt at a football career with the Detroit Lions, but continued to feel pain with no form of self-expression. As a result, he began recording the tracks that would eventually comprise his best-known work, What's Going On, handling all of his own production and most of his own songwriting
What's Going On was a politically-charged and deeply personal Motown album, notable for including elements of jazz and classical music. The record was among the first soul records to place emphasis on political and social concerns such as environmentalism, political corruption, drug abuse, and the Vietnam War. Gaye was inspired to write about the war by his brother, Frankie Gay, who had just returned from the front lines.
When Gaye delivered the album and the "What's Going On" single for release, Berry Gordy refused to release the album. He considered the record far too political and unfamiliar in sound to be commercially successful. Gaye stood his ground; he wanted to be able to express himself, and not Gordy's or Motown's version of himself, on record. Gordy eventually gave in, certain that the record would flop; What's Going On ended up having three Top Ten singles: "What's Going On", "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)", and "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)".
What's Going On 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." 
Let's Get It On and follow-ups
Gaye teamed up with Diana Ross for Diana & Marvin, an album of duets that began recording in 1971, while Ross was pregnant with her first child, Rhonda. Gaye, a longtime marijuana user, refused to put out his joints out for the pregnant Ross, who immediately complained to Berry Gordy about the issue. Gaye refused to sing if he couldn't smoke in the studio, and the duets album was recorded by overdubing Ross and Gaye at separate studio session dates.
Gaye released "I Want You" and the album of the same name by himself as his marriage finally ended in 1975. In between the controversy surrounding him, Gaye released the seminal funk/disco single, "Got to Give It Up", which went to No. 1 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1977. As part of a divorce settlement with Anna, Gaye agreed to record a new album and remit a portion of the royalties to Anna as alimony. The result was 1978's Here, My Dear, a deeply personal album that so clearly detailed the sour points of Gaye's former marriage that Anna Gordy considered suing him for invading her privacy. After a failed single and a rapidly failing new marriage to a teenage girl, Gaye moved to Hawaii. Tax problems and drug addictions haunted him, and after failing to get Motown labelmate Smokey Robinson to loan him money to take care of the tax issues, Gaye was forced to move to Ostend, Belgium in 1981.
Later career and death
In Europe, Gaye began working 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, altering the album art he requested, and removing the question mark from the title (rendering the intended irony imperceptible). He negotiated a release from the label and signed with Columbia Records in 1982 and released Midnight Love the same year. Midnight Love included "Sexual Healing", one of Gaye's most famous songs, and his final big hit.
Gaye's refound fame pushed him even deeper into drug addiction and he attempted to isolate himself by moving into his parent's 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 was shot and killed by his father in an argument, becoming a famous victim of filicide. Gaye's relatives claimed that he had purposely pushed his father to the edge so that he could have Marvin, Sr. kill him instead of having to commit suicide.
Legacy and tributes
Even before Gaye died, there had already been tributes to the singer. 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 "Night Shift". Former Motown alum Diana Ross also paid tribute with her Top 10 pop single "Missing You" around the same time. Marvin Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
In 1999, the R&B world paid its 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 September 11, 2001 tragedy as well as to the AIDS crisis, featured contributions from a plethora of stars, including Christina Aguilera, Mary J. Blige, Bono, Destiny's Child, Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit, Nelly Furtado, Alicia Keys, Aaron Lewis, Nas, *NSYNC, P. Diddy, ?uestlove of The Roots, Britney Spears, and Gwen Stefani . The "What's Going On" cover also featured Marvin Gaye's only daughter, Nona Gaye, a successful singer and actress in her own right.
As noted, Gaye helped give rise to the "singer-songwriter" in Black music. In addition, Gaye's music was often used as one of the reference point for what became known as neo soul in the late-1990s: a nostalgic-based sound that seeks to duplicate a 1970s soul music feel, while adding hip hop and contemporary R&B elements to the mix. Through his work is widely influential, it eventually became a neo-soul cliche to cite Gaye, Stevie Wonder, or Donny Hathaway as an influence, regardless of whether or not the citing artists' music actually reflected the qualities and creativity inherent in Gaye's work.
Gaye can also be seen as a groundbreaker to many self-made Black singers and musicians, who took his examples that he brought out in his music, including multitracked vocals and personal self-expression through music. These examples led to the diverse careers of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, Prince and Babyface, to name a few. To this day, modern pop and R&B stars name Gaye as a huge influence, including 2000s R&B superstars Usher and Alicia Keys. Gaye's music played a very important part in the career of R. Kelly, who has currently produced records for The Isley Brothers in a similar Gaye sound to note his influence. Kelly has also used a "divided soul" tactic, similar to that of Gaye, to express himself musically.
As a hitmaker, Gaye scored an impressive total of 41 Top 40 hit singles on Billboard's Pop Singles chart from 1963 to 2001, 56 consecutive Top 40 R&B singles chart hits from 1962 to 1981, 17 Top 10 singles on the pop chart, 32 Top 10 singles on the R&B chart, 3 #1 Pop hits and 12 #1 R&B hits in total. In all, Gaye has had a total of 67 singles on the Billboard charts in total (be it Pop and/or R&B in all), spaning five decades.
In 2001, rapper/producer Erick Sermon, took an outtake from a 1982 Gaye song and remixed it so he could collaborate with Gaye in spirit. The result, "Music", became one of the top singles of the year peaking in the Top 5 on both the Billboard R&B and rap charts and hitting #21 on the pop charts. In late 2004, several producers remixed Gaye's legendary 1973 single "Let's Get It On" from the funk-infused original to a more danceable "stepper" version. The "Stepper's Remix" to "Let's Get it On" was so hot that it made Gaye a hitmaker on the charts again as it debuted at No. 94 on the Billboard R&B and Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks proving Gaye is still a relevant artist in popular music culture.
- 1961: The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye
- 1963: That Stubborn Kinda Fellow
- 1963: Recorded Live on Stage
- 1964: Hello Broadway
- 1964: When I'm Alone I Cry
- 1965: How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You
- 1965: A Tribute To The Great Nat "King" Cole
- 1966: The Moods of Marvin Gaye
- 1968: In the Groove (reissued in 1969 as I Heard It Through the Grapevine)
- 1969: M.P.G.
- 1969: Marvin Gaye & His Girls
- 1970: That's The Way Love Is
- 1971: What's Going On
- 1972: Trouble Man (soundtrack)
- 1973: Let's Get It On
- 1974: Marvin Gaye Live!
- 1976: I Want You
- 1977: Live at the London Palladium
- 1978: Here, My Dear
- 1981: In Our Lifetime
- 1982: Midnight Love
- Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells
- 1964: Together
- Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
- Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye
- 1973: Diana & Marvin
- 1962: "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" (US #46; R&B #8)
- 1963: "Hitch Hike" (US #30; R&B #12)
- 1963: "Can I Get a Witness" (US #22)
- 1963: "Pride & Joy" (US #10; R&B #2)
- 1964: "You Are a Wonderful One" (US #15; R&B #15)
- 1964: "Try It Baby" (US #15; R&B #15)
- 1964: "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" (US #6; R&B #4)
- 1965: "I'll Be Doggone" (US #8; R&B #1)
- 1965: "Ain't That Peculiar" (US #8; R&B #1)
- 1968: "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (US #1; R&B #1; UK #1)
- 1969: "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby" (US #4; R&B #1)
- 1969: "That's The Way Love Is" (US #7; R&B #2)
- 1969: "Abraham, Martin & John" (UK #9)
- 1971: "What's Going On" (US #2; R&B #1)
- 1971: "Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)" (US #4; R&B #1)
- 1971: "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)" (US #9; R&B #1)
- 1972: "You're the Man" (US #50; R&B #7)
- 1972: "Trouble Man" (US #7; R&B #4)
- 1973: "Let's Get It On" (US #1; R&B #1)
- 1973: "Come Get to This" (US #21; R&B #3)
- 1974: "Distant Lover" (US #28; R&B #12)
- 1976: "I Want You" (US #15; R&B #1)
- 1977: "Got To Give It Up" (US #1; R&B #1)
- 1982: "Sexual Healing" (US #3; R&B #1)
- 1985: "Sanctified Lady" (R&B #2)
- 1991: "My Last Chance" (R&B #16)
- 2004: "Let's Get It On" (The Producers' Mix) (R&B #94)
- Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells
- 1964: "Once Upon a Time" (US #19; R&B #19)
- 1964: "What's the Matter With You Baby" (US #17; R&B #17)
- Marvin Gaye & Kim Weston
- 1966: "It Takes Two" (US #14; R&B #4)
- Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell
- 1967: "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (US #19; R&B #3)
- 1967: "Your Precious Love" (US #5; R&B #2)
- 1967: "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You" (US #10; R&B #2)
- 1968: "You're All I Need to Get By" (US #7; R&B #1)
- 1968: "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (US #8; R&B #1)
- 1968: "Keep On Lovin' Me Honey" (US #24; R&B #11)
- 1968: "If This World Were Mine" (R&B #27)
- 1969: "Good Lovin' Ain't Easy to Come By" (US #28)
- 1970: "The Onion Song" (actually performed by Gaye and Valerie Simpson) (US #31)
- Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye
- 1973: "You're a Special Part of Me" (US #12; R&B #4)
- 1973: "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)" (UK #25)
- 1973: "You Are Everything" (UK #5)
- 1974: "My Mistake Was to Love You" (US #19; R&B #15)
- 1974: "Don't Knock My Love" (US #46; R&B #25)
- Erick Sermon & Marvin Gaye
- 2001: "Music" (US #21; R&B #2)
- Gaye, Frankie with Basten, Fred E. (2003). Marvin Gaye: My Brother. Backbeat Books, ISBN 0–879–30742–0
- Heron, W. Kim (April 8, 1984). Marvin Gaye: a life marked by complexity. Detroit Free Press.
- Posner, Gerald (2002). Motown : Music, Money, Sex, and Power. New York: Random House. ISBN 037–550062–6.
- Ritz, David (1986). Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye. Cambridge, Mass: Da Capo Press. ISBN 030681191X
- Gambaccini, Paul (1987). The Top 100 Rock 'n' Roll Albums of All Time. New York: Harmony Books.
- Dyson, Michael Eric (2004). Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye. New York/Philadelphia: Basic Civitas. ISBN 0–465–01769-X.