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Marvin Gaye died aged fourty-four on 1st April 1984, whilst in his bedroom. His father Marvin Gay Sr. shot Marvin in the heart and then in his left shoulder. Minutes earlier, the two men had been involved in a physical altercation when Marvin intervened in a fight between his parents. The first shot proved to be fatal. Marvin Gaye was pronounced dead at 1:01 p.m. after his body arrived at California Hospital Medical Center.
After Marvin Gaye's funeral, his body was cremated at Forest Lawn Memorial Park at the Hollywood Hills. His ashes were later scattered into the Pacific Ocean. Initially charged with first-degree murder, Gay Sr.'s charges dropped to voluntary manslaughter following a diagnosis of a brain tumor and Marvin Gaye's autopsy revealing the singer had drugs in his system. Marvin Gay Sr. was later sentenced to a suspended six-year sentence and probation. He died at a nursing home in 1998.
Marvin Gaye was born Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. on April 2nd 1939 in Washington, D.C., U.S.A. to church minister Marvin Gay Sr., and domestic worker Alberta Gay. His first home was in the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood. Although one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, with many elegant Federal-style homes, Southwest was primarily a vast slum. Most buildings were small, in extensive disrepair, and lacked both electricity and running water. The alleys were full of one- and two-story shacks, and nearly every dwelling was overcrowded.
Marvin Gaye was the second eldest of the couple's four children. He had two sisters, and one brother.
Marvin Gaye started singing in church when he was four years old; his father often accompanied him on piano. Marvin and his family were part of a Pentecostal church known as the House of God. The House of God took its teachings from Hebrew Pentecostalism, advocated strict conduct, and adhered to both the Old and New Testaments. Marvin Gaye developed a love of singing at an early age and was encouraged to pursue a professional music career after a performance at a school play at eleven singing Mario Lanza's "Be My Love". His home life consisted of "brutal whippings" by his father, who struck him for any shortcoming. The young Marvin Gaye described living in his father's house as similar to "...living with a king, a very peculiar, changeable, cruel, and all powerful king." He felt that had his mother not consoled him and encouraged his singing, he would have killed himself. His sister later explained that Marvin was beaten often, from age seven well into his teenage years.
Marvin Gaye attended Syphax Elementary School nd then Randall Junior High School. He began to take singing much more seriously in junior high, and he joined and became a singing star with the Randall Junior High Glee Club.
Marvin Gaye briefly attended Spingarn High School before transferring to Cardozo High School. At Cardozo, he joined several doo-wop vocal groups, including the Dippers and the D.C. Tones. Marvin Gaye's relationship with his father worsened during his teenage years, as his father would kick him out of the house often. In 1956, seventeen-year-old Marvin Gaye dropped out of high school and enlisted in the United States Air Force as a basic airman. Disappointed in having to perform menial tasks, he faked mental illness and was discharged shortly afterwards. Marvin Gaye's sergeant stated that he refused to follow orders. Marvin Gaye was issued a "General Discharge" from the service.
Following his return, Marvin 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 failing to get the group signed to his own label, Chess. The group's sole single, "Wyatt Earp" (co-written by Bo Diddley), failed to chart and the group was soon dropped from the label. Marvin 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 Marvin 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. Marvin Gaye relocated to Detroit with Fuqua where he signed with Tri-Phi Records as a session musician, playing drums on several Tri-Phi releases. Marvin 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 Marvin Gaye. Fuqua agreed to sell part of his interest in his contract with Marvin Gaye. Shortly afterwards, Marvin Gaye signed with Motown subsidiary Tamla.
When Marvin 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, Marvin Gaye was teased about his surname, with some jokingly asking, "Is Marvin Gay?" Marvin changed the spelling of his surname by adding an e, in the same way as did Sam Cooke. Author David Ritz wrote that Gaye did this to silence rumors 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. Marvin Gaye's initial recordings failed commercially and he spent most of 1961 performing session work as a drummer for artists such as The Miracles, The Marvelettes and blues artist Jimmy Reed.
In 1962, Marvin 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 No. 8 on the R&B chart and No. 46 on the Billboard Hot 100. Marvin Gaye reached the top 40 with the dance song, "Hitch Hike", peaking at No. 30 on the Hot 100. "Pride and Joy" became Marvin Gaye's first top ten single after its release in 1963.
The three singles and songs from the 1962 sessions were included on Marvin Gaye's second album, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow. Starting in October of the year, Marvin 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 Marvin 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 Marvin Gaye's early international hits.
In 1964, Marvin Gaye recorded a successful duet album with singer Mary Wells titled Together, which reached No. 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. Marvin Gaye's next solo hit, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", which Holland-Dozier-Holland wrote for him, reached No. 6 on the Hot 100 and reached the top 50 in the UK. Marvin Gaye started getting television 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. Marvin 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 this, Marvin Gaye returned to jazz-derived ballads for a tribute album to the recently-deceased Nat "King" Cole.
After scoring a hit duet, "It Takes Two" with Kim Weston, Marvin 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 Marvin Gaye in April 1967, several months before Gladys Knight and the Pips recorded it. The song features a Wurlitzer piano, percussion, and horns. Marvin Gaye's recording of it paved the way for what later became "psychedelic soul".
In October 1967, Terrell collapsed in Marvin 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 tumor in her brain. The diagnosis ended Terrell's career as a live performer. Marvin Gaye was reportedly devastated by Terrell's sickness and became disillusioned with the record business.
In late 1968, Marvin Gaye's recording of I Heard It Through the Grapevine became his 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, Marvin Gaye felt the success was something he "didn't deserve" and that he "felt like a puppet – Berry's puppet, Anna's puppet. Marvin 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 1 R&B album. Marvin Gaye produced and co-wrote two hits for The Originals during this period, including "Baby I'm For Real" and "The Bells".
Tammi Terrell died from brain cancer on March 16th 1970. Marvin Gaye attended her funeral and after a period of depression, he sought out a position on a professional football team, the Detroit Lions.
On June 1, 1970, Marvin 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. Marvin Gaye responded by going on strike from recording until the label released the song. Released in 1971, it reached No. 1 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 No. 2 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, Marvin Gaye spent ten days recording the 'What's Going On' album that March. Motown issued the album that May after Marvin Gaye remixed portions of the album in Hollywood. The album became Marvin 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, Marvin 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 Marvin Gaye Trendsetter of the Year following the album's success.
In 1971, Marvin Gaye signed a new deal with Motown worth $1 million, making it the most lucrative deal by a black recording artist at the time. Marvin Gaye first responded to the new contract with the soundtrack and subsequent score, Trouble Man, released in late 1972. Around this period, he, Anna and Marvin III finally left Detroit and moved to Los Angeles permanently.
"Let's Get It On" was written by Marvin Gaye and producer Ed Townsend, originally as a gospel song, and later as a protest song before eventually turning into a funk-oriented love anthem. It became Marvin Gaye's second number-one hit in 1973.
In 1973, Marvin Gaye released the 'Let's Get It On album'. Its title track became Marvin Gaye's second No. 1 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 Marvin 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 despite contrasting artistic styles. Much of the material was crafted especially for the duo by Ashford and Simpson. Responding to demand from fans and Motown, Marvin Gaye started his first tour in four years at the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum on January 4th 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 Marvin Gaye's reputation as a live performer. For a time, he was earning $10,000 a night for performances. Marvin Gaye toured throughout 1974 and 1975. A renewed contract with Motown allowed Marvin Gaye to build his own custom-made recording studio.
In October 1975, Marvin 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. Marvin Gaye's next studio album, I Want You, followed in 1976 with the title track becoming a Number 1 R&B hit. That summer, Marvin Gaye embarked on his first European tour in a decade, starting off in England. In early 1977, Marvin Gaye released 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 1 hit.
In December 1978, Marvin Gaye released 'Here, My Dear', inspired by the fallout of his first marriage to Anna Gordy. Recorded as an intent for Marvin Gaye to remit a portion of its royalties to her to receive alimony payments, it performed poorly on the charts. During that period, Marvin Gaye developed a serious dependence and addiction to cocaine and was dealing with several financial issues with the IRS. These issues led him to move to Maui, Hawaii, where he struggled to record a disco album. In 1980, Marvin Gaye went on a European tour. By the time the tour stopped, the singer relocated to London when he feared imprisonment for failure to pay back taxes, which had now reached upwards of $4.5 million.
Marvin Gaye then reworked 'Love Man' from its original disco concept to another personal album invoking religion and the possible end time from a chapter in the Book of Revelation. Naming the album 'In Our Lifetime?', Marvin Gaye worked on the album for much of 1980 in London studios such as Air and Odyssey Studios.
In the fall of that year, someone stole a master tape of a rough draft of the album from one of Marvin Gaye's traveling musicians, Frank Blair, taking the master tape to Motown's Hollywood headquarters. Motown remixed the album and released it on January 15, 1981. When Marvin Gaye learned of its release, he accused Motown of editing and remixing the album without his consent, allowing the release of an unfinished production . He also accused the label of rush-releasing the album, comparing his unfinished album to an unfinished Picasso painting. Marvin Gaye then vowed not to record any more music for Motown.
On February 14, 1981, under the advice of music promoter Freddy Cousaert, Marvin Gaye relocated to Cousaert's apartment in Ostend, Belgium. While there, he shied away from heavy drug use and began exercising and attending a local Ostend church, regaining personal confidence. Following several months of recovery, Marvin Gaye sought a comeback onstage, starting the short-lived 'Heavy Love Affair' tour in England and Ostend in June–July 1981. Marvin Gaye's personal attorney Curtis Shaw would later describe Marvin Gaye's Ostend period as "the best thing that ever happened to Marvin". When word got around that Marvin Gaye was planning a musical comeback and an exit from Motown, CBS Urban president Larkin Arnold eventually was able to convince Marvin Gaye to sign with CBS. On March 23rd 1982, Motown and CBS Records negotiated Marvin Gaye's release from Motown. The details of the contract were not revealed due to a possible negative effect on the singer's settlement to creditors from the IRS.
"Sexual Healing" was written by Marvin Gaye alongside Odell Brown and David Ritz. Ritz said Marvin advised him to write a poem after telling the singer he needed "sexual healing" while living in Europe. The song became an international hit after its release in 1982.
Assigned to CBS's Columbia subsidiary, Marvin Gaye worked on his first post-Motown album titled 'Midnight Love'. The first single, "Sexual Healing" which was written and recorded in Ostend in his apartment, was released on September 30th 1982, and became his biggest career hit, spending a record ten weeks at Number 1 on the Hot Black Singles chart, becoming the biggest R&B hit of the 1980s according to Billboard stats. The success later translated to the Billboard Hot 100 chart in January 1983 where it peaked at Number 3, while the record reached international success, reaching the top spot in New Zealand and Canada and reaching the top ten on the United Kingdom's OCC singles chart, later selling over two million copies in the U.S.A. alone, becoming Marvin Gaye's most successful single to date. The video for the song was shot at Ostend's Casino-Kursaal.
Sexual Healing won Marvin Gaye his first two Grammy Awards including Best Male R&B Vocal Performance, in February 1983, and also won Marvin Gaye an American Music Award in the R&B-soul category. People magazine called it "America's hottest musical turn-on since Olivia Newton-John demanded we get Physical." Midnight Love was released to stores a day after the single's release, and was equally successful, peaking at the top ten of the Billboard 200 and becoming Marvin Gaye's eighth Number 1 album on the Top Black Albums chart, eventually selling over six million copies worldwide, three million alone in the U.S.A.
On February 13th 1983, Marvin Gaye sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the NBA All-Star Game at The Forum in Inglewood, California—accompanied by Gordon Banks, who played the studio tape from the stands. The following month, Marvin Gaye performed at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever special. This and a May appearance on Soul Train (his third appearance on the show) became Marvin Gaye's final television performances. Marvin Gaye embarked on his final concert tour, titled the Sexual Healing Tour, on April 18th 1983, in San Diego. The tour ended on August 14th 1983 at the Pacific Amphitheatre in Costa Mesa, California but was plagued by cocaine-triggered paranoia and illness. Following the concert's end, Marvin moved into his parents' house in Los Angeles. In early 1984, Midnight Love was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Male R&B Vocal Performance category, his 12th and final nomination.