Tammy Terrell, Singer   Leave a comment

Thomasina Winifred Montgomery, known as Tammi Terrell (April 29, 1945 – March 16, 1970) was an American singer-songwriter most notable for her association with Motown and her duets with Marvin Gaye. As a teenager she recorded for the ScepterWand, Try Me and Checker record labels. She signed with Motown in April 1965 and enjoyed modest success as a solo singer. Once she was paired with Gaye in 1967, her stardom grew, but on October 14 of that year she collapsed on stage into Gaye’s arms during a performance. She was soon thereafter diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor which eventually led to her death six weeks before her 25th birthday.



[edit] Early life and career

Tammi Terrell was born Thomasina Winifred Montgomery in Philadelphia. Members of her family have said her parents figured their eldest child would be a son and had settled on “Thomas”. After Terrell’s birth, they added in “-ina”. Terrell was called “Tommie” by family. Terrell has a younger sister, Ludie (born 1949). Terrell began singing in church at an early age. Terrell developed a rebellious, free-spirited streak and changed her name to “Tammy” after seeing the film Tammy and the Bachelor in the summer of 1957 and hearing its theme song “Tammy”. Around this time, Terrell began complaining of migraines and headaches. Terrell’s family said that this foreshadowed her later struggle with brain cancer but that at the time they did not regard it as a major issue.

By the age of thirteen, Terrell had begun a professional singing career. In 1960, prior to her fifteenth birthday, she signed with Scepter Records, and recorded the doo-wop single “If You See Bill” , releasing it under the name “Tammy Montgomery”. Though the record wasn’t a success, it did establish Terrell in some R&B circles and Terrell went on tour with some of Scepter’s biggest artists and other popular R&B artists of the Philadelphia area, including Chubby Checker and Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles. She also opened for R&B star Gene Chandler, with whom she had a friendship. In 1962, Terrell came to the attention of James Brown and the seventeen-year-old found herself in Brown’s popular Revue becoming one of Brown’s first female headliners. In 1963, Terrell recorded for Brown’s Try Me Records, releasing the ballad, “I Cried“, which gave her some chart success. Terrell and Brown also had a personal relationship, which was hampered by Brown’s physical abuse towards her. After a horrific incident backstage after a show, Terrell asked Chandler (who witnessed the incident first hand) to take her to the bus station so she could go home. He later called her mother to come pick her up. This ended Terrell’s two-year relationship with Brown. Ludie Montgomery stated in her memoirs of Terrell that she met Sam Cooke in 1964 after Cooke showed a romantic interest in Terrell. Before a relationship could forge, however, Cooke was murdered in Los Angeles that December.

After recording a single for Checker Records in 1964, produced by the legendary Bert Berns and paired with singer Jimmy Radcliffe on a now-released duet version of the song “If I Would Marry You” wherein she debuted as a co-writer with Berns, Terrell semi-retired from show business and enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania where she stayed for two years majoring in pre-med. In 1965, Jerry “The Ice Man” Butler asked Terrell to sing with him in a series of nightclub shows, which Terrell agreed to with a schedule that would allow her to continue her studies in Pennsylvania. In March 1965, Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy spotted Terrell performing in Detroit and asked Terrell to sign with Motown. Terrell agreed and signed with Motown on April 29, 1965, her 20th birthday.

[edit] Early success

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Terrell’s first single with Motown was the Johnny Bristol and Harvey Fuqua composition, “I Can’t Believe You Love Me”, in November 1965. Prior to the single’s release, Gordy gave her a new name, figuring Tammy Montgomery was too long. He wanted a name that screamed “sex appeal” and therefore settled on “Tammi Terrell” with the y in “Tammy” changed to an “i”. The song became a modest success, reaching the top thirty of the American R&B charts. Another modest R&B charter was the sultry “Come on and See Me”. Terrell also recorded the first version of Stevie Wonder‘s future classic, “All I Do (Is Think About You)” and also recorded a version of The Isley Brothers‘ “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)“, in a slightly uptempo gospel-influenced version.

Terrell’s R&B success landed her a spot on the Motortown Revue. Around the same time, Terrell began a romantic relationship with David Ruffin, lead vocalist of the The Temptations. In 1966, Ruffin proposed marriage to Terrell. Terrell was distraught however when she later learned that Ruffin had a wife and three children living in Detroit. Devastated, she and Ruffin began having public fights. It was claimed that Terrell was hit with a hammer and machete by Ruffin; Terrell’s family and her Motown colleagues denied those claims, but Ludie Montgomery did confirm that Terrell was hit on the side of her face by Ruffin’s motorcycle helmet. The incident put an end to their relationship in 1967.

[edit] Success with Marvin Gaye

Main article: Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell in a promotional 1967 photo

By early 1967, Marvin Gaye had seen three singers he recorded duets with – Mary Wells, Kim Weston and Oma Page – leave Motown. Figuring Terrell could benefit, Gordy asked Terrell to sing duets with Gaye, which she agreed. Gaye later recalled that he didn’t know how musically and vocally gifted Terrell was until they began recording duets together.

At first the duets were recorded separately. For sessions of their first recording, the Ashford & Simpson composition, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“, both Gaye and Terrell recorded separate versions. Motown remixed the vocals and edited out the background vocals, giving just Gaye and Terrell vocal dominance. The song, originally written for Dusty Springfield, became a crossover pop hit in the spring of 1967, reaching number nineteen on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the R&B charts, making Terrell a star. Their follow-up hit, “Your Precious Love“, became an even bigger hit reaching number five on the pop chart, and number-two on the R&B chart. In late 1967, the duo scored a third top ten single with “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You“, which peaked at number ten on the pop chart and number-two on the R&B chart. The song’s B-side, the Marvin Gaye composition, “If This World Were Mine“, became a modest hit on both charts, reaching number sixty-eight on the pop chart and number twenty-seven on the R&B chart. Gaye would later cite the song as “one of Tammi’s favorites”.

All four songs were included on Gaye and Terrell’s first duet album, United, released in the late summer of 1967. Throughout that year, Gaye and Terrell began performing together and Terrell became a vocal and performance inspiration for the shy and laid-back Gaye, who hated live performing. The duo even performed together on TV shows to their hits. While Terrell was finally being established as a star, the migraines and headaches that she suffered with as a child were becoming more constant. While she complained of pains, she insisted to people close to her that she was well enough to perform. However, on October 14, 1967, while performing with Gaye at Hampden-Sydney College, outside of the college of Farmville, Virginia, Terrell fell and buckled onstage. Gaye helped her not fall completely to the ground and rushed Terrell backstage, where she was immediately taken to Southside Community Hospital and later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor.

External audio
You may listen to Tammi Terrell & Marvin Gaye sing “Ain’t no Mountain High Enoughhere

After a six-week stay at a Philadelphia hospital where she had her first of what would be eight operations, Terrell returned to Detroit to record the Gaye duet, “You’re All I Need to Get By“. Prior to the tumor diagnosis and her collapse onstage, Terrell and Gaye recorded in front of each other for the first time during the recording of “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing“. Both songs became number-one R&B hits in 1968, as well as top ten pop hits. The change in recording from United and the duo’s second album, You’re All I Need was due to Terrell’s rapid illness – while two of the songs on United were overdubbed with Gaye’s vocals, six of the tracks on You’re All I Need were overdubbed with Gaye vocals to create duet tracks.

Gaye later told his biographer David Ritz that Terrell was unable to record and that Valerie Simpson filled in for her vocals on the final Gaye/Terrell duet album, Easy. Simpson and her husband, Nickolas Ashford, have been quoted as denying this in several sources, including a book written by Terrell’s sister Ludie Montgomery and the liner notes to The Complete Motown Singles Volume 9: 1969. Simpson’s own account is that she did provide guide vocals for Gaye to work with in Terrell’s absence (and that it was this which Gaye later remembered), but that Terrell was then brought in to “painstakingly” record her vocals for the Easy album over Simpson’s guide track.[1] Simpson reiterated the story on a recent documentary on Terrell’s life story. However, others who worked with Motown[who?] heard the album and also concluded that Terrell wasn’t on the album. They contended that the voice was “too nasal” and that the language pattern, accent, and vocal delivery weren’t close to Terrell’s.[citation needed]. Simpson had some vocal similarities to Terrell and eventually confirmed Gaye’s reports that Terrell wasn’t on the album despite her own claims[citation needed]. Liner Notes to the Complete Motown singles Volume 10 confirms that Terrell was present during the sessions, at least as an adviser and may have supplied some vocals as well.

Despite these reports, Gaye and Terrell continued to have chart success. The Easy album included the modest hit, “What You Gave Me” (later covered by Diana Ross in an ill-fated disco version), and the top ten UK hit, “The Onion Song“. In late 1969, while performing at the Apollo Theater, Gaye spotted an ill Terrell in the audience after the singer, now under ninety pounds, stood up and began singing her opening response to Gaye on their hit, “You’re All I Need to Get By”. Gaye, who was performing with Carla Thomas on the bill, reportedly stepped off the stage into the audience to sing with Terrell, who was given a microphone. The performance ended with a standing ovation. It was to be Terrell’s final public appearance.

[edit] Death and aftermath

At the time of her death, Terrell was engaged to be married to a doctor, though not her personal doctor. Terrell figured, with every operation, she would get well, but her tumor only got worse. By late 1969, Terrell was on her seventh operation and was unable to promote the Easy album. Also in 1969, Motown also issued Terrell’s first and only solo album, Irresistible, which included recordings going back to 1965 and through 1968. Being close to death, Terrell was also unable to promote that record as well. A 1969 Ebony article reported on Terrell’s struggles to get well and the singer gave an exclusive interview hopeful of an eventual recovery and a return to recording and live performances. However, it wasn’t to be. On January 25, 1970, Terrell went into her eighth and final operation on her tumor. Shortly after that she lapsed into a coma. Terrell then died, of complications from brain cancer, on March 16, 1970. She was a month and two weeks short of her 25th birthday. Marvin Gaye reacted to her initial illness, when she collapsed into his arms onstage in 1967, by taking a four-year hiatus from concert performance. His first appearance after this hiatus was at the newly opened Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. on May 1, 1972, where he performed his hit album “What’s Going On” with many of the musicians who played on the original sessions.

Gaye recalled that he felt somehow responsible for Terrell’s illness and death. Gaye failed to appreciate his own successes including the international hit, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine“, thinking the success was not deserved on his part. At the funeral, Gaye delivered a final eulogy while “You’re All I Need to Get By” was playing. According to Terrell’s fiance, who knew Gaye, Terrell’s mother allowed just Gaye at the funeral but told him that Terrell’s other Motown colleagues would not be allowed in. Terrell’s mother criticized Motown for not helping with Terrell’s illness accusing the label for covering up the singer’s condition releasing albums of Terrell’s work without her consent. Gaye had also contended that he felt Motown was taking advantage of Terrell’s illness and refused to promote the Easy album despite Motown telling him it would cover Terrell’s health finances. Gaye never fully got over Terrell’s death, according to several biographers stated Terrell’s death led Gaye to depression and drug abuse.

In addition, Gaye’s classic album What’s Going On, an introspective, low-key work which dealt with mature themes released in 1971, was in part a reaction to Terrell’s death.[2] In July 1970, four months after Terrell’s untimely passing, a dramatic gospel-pop rearrangement of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, was released by Diana Ross, becoming a number-one hit and one of Ross’ signature songs.

On October 8, 2010, Hip-O Select released Come On And See Me: The Complete Solo Collection, a collection of all of Terrell’s solo work dating back to high school, plus never before released songs and 13 minutes of the only known live stage recordings.


Posted February 14, 2012 by pennylibertygbow in Singer

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