Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. was born in 1939 in Washington D.C. to a preacher of an eccentric, strict Christian church which did not observe any holidays. Marvin began his singing career at the age of three in the church choir. Music was his escape from the harsh reality of his home life. His father was an alcoholic who would beat his four children on a daily basis over the most minor mistakes. This treatment probably influenced Marvin's resistance to regimentation and authority, a trait that affected much of his professional life.
Marvin dropped out of high school to join the Air Force, but was discharged for his inability to follow instruction. He then began singing on the street corners with the Doo-Wop group called The Rainbows in 1955. His talent caught the attention of Harvey Fuqua who would join Marvin Gaye with The Moonglows, a five-part harmony group in 1959. After The Moonglows broke up, Fuqua took Marvin to Detroit to meet Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown. Gordy was attracted to Marvin Gaye's three-octave vocal and graceful tenor.
As Marvin Gaye's career started to form, so did his personal life. Marvin fell in love with Berry Gordy's sister, Anna who was 17 years his senior. They married shortly thereafter. At that point, Marvin's dream was to be the next Nat King Cole, singing smooth, romantic ballads. Though against Berry Gordy's plan, Marvin was given the opportunity to follow his dream. The opportunity however, failed completely.
With Marvin Gaye's stubborn personality in mind, Berry Gordy's brother wrote the song "Stubborn Kind of Fellow" in 1962 for Marvin, which did well. In the same year, the singles, "Can I Get a Witness" and "Aint That Peculiar" also had some success. In addition to Gaye's rising popularity as a soloist, he began to gain commercial success as a duet partner with Motown artists Mary Wells, Kim Weston, Diana Ross, and Tammi Terrel.
His greatest achievement with duets was shared with Tammi Terrel. They recorded such classics as "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1967) and "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing" (1968). Unfortunately, Tammi Terrel discovered that she had a brain tumor which would eventually cause her death in 1970. Her death, along with his crumbling marriage to Anna shook Marvin violently.
During this time, Norman Whitfield wrote the song, "Heard It Through the Grape Vine" for Marvin. To Marvin, this song reflected the mental turmoil he was experiencing and he sang the cut with more anguish and intensity than ever expressed before with his voice. The song climbed the charts to the #1 spot for seven weeks. The success of this song allowed Marvin to produce and write his own songs. He and Stevie Wonder were the first Motown artists to have complete artistic control of their records. Unlike Wonder, Gaye rarely performed live and avoided TV exposure almost completely.
Although his professional career was on the rise, his personal life was beginning to fall apart. With the loss of Tammi Terrel, his failing marriage with Anna, and his growing social concerns, Marvin remained mostly secluded in 1970. During seclusion, he wrote the album, "What's Going On" (released in 1971), which touched upon the social concerns of the era including his views on Vietnam, poverty, racism, the environment, drug abuse, and political corruption. Berry Gordy was reluctant to release "What's Going On" because he didn't understand the album and it seemed to go against much that Gordy stood for. The album however was a smash and reshaped African-American popular music. In addition to his independence, Marvin Gaye also liked to shock and surprise people. He moved away from social concerns to more personal and sexual material as evident with his single "Lets Get it On" (1973). He continued to explore sexually charged content in 1976, which later influenced future artists such as Prince.
Marvin spent most of the mid-1970's in divorce court with Anna. As a result of the proceedings, the court ordered Marvin to give all the royalties from his next album, "Here, My Dear" (1978) to his ex-wife. This album covered very personal material in their relationship with songs such as "When Did You Stop Loving Me."
By the early 1980's, his second marriage was falling apart, his addiction to cocaine was growing, and his tax liabilities worsened. This pressure pushed Marvin to flee to Europe and rebuild himself. He returned to the U.S. with the album, "Midnight Love" which featured the hit, "Sexual Healing" (1982). The album was an attempt to resolve his personal problems but unfortunately his mental demons raged on.
Avoiding his responsibilities, he moved in with his parents. In 1984, on the day before Marvin Gaye's 45th birthday, he and his father had a heated argument, which ended when his father shot and killed him.
Page author: L.C.