Starting his career as a member of the doo-wop group The Moonglows in the late 1950s, he ventured into a solo career after the group disbanded in 1960, signing with Motown Records subsidiary, Tamla. He started off as a session drummer, but later ranked as the label’s top-selling solo artist during the 1960s. He was crowned “The Prince of Motown” and “The Prince of Soul”. because of solo hits such as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)“, “Ain’t That Peculiar“, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and his duet singles with singers such as Mary Wells and Tammi Terrell.
His work in the early and mid-1970s included the albums, What’s Going On, Let’s Get It On, and I Want You, which helped influence the quiet storm, urban adult contemporary, and slow jam genres. After a self-imposed European exile in the early 1980s, Gaye returned on the 1982 Grammy-Award winning hit, “Sexual Healing” and the Midnight Love album before his death. Gaye was shot dead by his father on April 1, 1984. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.
In 2008, the American music magazine Rolling Stone ranked Gaye at number 6 on its list of the Greatest Singers of All Time, and ranked at number 18 on 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. He was also ranked at number 20 on VH1’s list of 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
Early life (1939–1957)
Marvin Pentz Gaye, Jr. was born on April 2, 1939 at Freedman’s Hospital in Washington, D.C.. His father, Marvin Gay, Sr., was a minister at the House of God (the House of God headquarters is located in Lexington, Kentucky), which advocated strict conduct and taught and believed in both the old and new Testament. His mother, Alberta Gay (née Alberta Cooper), was a domestic and schoolteacher. Gaye was the second eldest of four children. His younger brother, Frankie (1941–2001), would be one of the main sources of Gaye’s musical development and later served as a soldier in the Vietnam War and embarked on a singing career upon his return to civilian life to follow in his elder brother’s footsteps. His youngest sister, Zeola “Sweetsie” Gay (b. 1945), would later become the main choreographer of her brother’s live shows. As a child, Gaye was raised in the Benning Terrace projects in southeast D.C.
Gaye’s father was minister of a local Seventh-day Adventist Church for a time. By the time his eldest son was five, Marvin Sr. was bringing Gaye with him to church revivals to sing for church congregations. Gaye’s father was assured all four of his children would follow him into the ministry and would later use his strict domineering to get his children to avoid secular activities including sports and secular music. Gaye’s early home life was marked by violence as his father would often strike him for any shortcoming. Gaye and his three siblings were bed-wetters as children. Gaye would later call his father a “tyrannical and powerful king” and said he was depressed as a child, convinced that he would eventually “become one of those child statistics that you read in the papers” had he not been encouraged to pursue his dreams by his mother. By age fourteen, Gaye’s parents moved to the Deanwood neighborhood of northeast D.C. The following year, Gaye’s father quit the ministry after a disappointment over not being promoted as the Chief Apostle (head overseer) of the House of God Inc. Gaye said his father later developed alcoholism, which furthered tension between father and son.
Developing a love for music at an early age, Gaye began playing instruments, including piano and drums. Upon arriving to Cardozo High School, he discovered doo-wop and harder-edged rhythm and blues and began running away from home to attend R&B concerts and dance halls, defying his father’s rules. Gaye joined several groups in the D.C. area, including the Dippers with his best friend, Johnny Stewart, brother of R&B singer Billy Stewart. He then joined the D.C. Tones, whose members included another close friend, Reese Palmer, and Sondra Lattisaw, mother of R&B singer Stacy Lattisaw. Gaye’s relationship with his father led him to run away from home and join the United States Air Force in the hope of becoming an aviator. However, discovering his growing hatred for authority, he began defying orders and skipped practices. Faking mental illness, he was discharged. His sergeant stated that Gaye refused to follow orders. Upon returning to his hometown, Gaye worked as a dishwasher to make ends meet. He still dreamed of a show-business career, and rejoining Reese Palmer, the duo formed a four-member group calling themselves the Marquees.
Early career (1958–1962)
A 1959 promotional picture of Harvey and the Moonglows. Gaye is located in the right of a seated Fuqua.
In 1958, the Marquees were discovered singing at a D.C. club by Bo Diddley, who signed them to Okeh Records, where they recorded “Wyatt Earp”, with “Hey Little Schoolgirl” as its B-side. It received moderate success, but not the success Gaye and his band mates had hoped for. Later that year Harvey Fuqua, founder and co-lead singer of the landmark doo-wop group The Moonglows, recruited them, after the breakup of the original members, to be “The New Moonglows” which moved the formerly-named Marquees from Okeh to Chess Records. While there, the “new Moonglows” recorded background vocals for Chess recording stars Chuck Berry and Etta James. After “The Twelve Months of the Year”, which featured a spoken monologue by Gaye, became a regional hit, the group issued “Mama Loochie”, which was the first time Gaye sang lead on a record. The record was issued in late 1959 and became a hit in Detroit. Following a concert performance there, Gaye and other band members were arrested for small possession of marijuana. Afterwards, Fuqua decided to disband the group, keeping Gaye with him, as he favored him over the other members. In 1960, Harvey Fuqua had met Gwen Gordy and the couple embarked on both a personal and professional relationship. That year, the couple formed two record labels, the self-named Harvey Records, and Tri-Phi Records. Gaye was signed to the former label, whose other members included a young David Ruffin and Junior Walker. He provided drums for The Spinners‘ first hit, “That’s What Girls Are Made For“, which was released on Tri-Phi. Stories on how Gaye eventually met Berry Gordy and how he signed to Motown Records vary. One early story stated that Gordy discovered Gaye singing at a local bar in Detroit and that Gordy offered to sign Gaye on the spot. Gaye’s recollection, and a story Gordy later reiterated, was that Gaye invited himself to Motown’s annual Christmas party inside the label’s Hitsville USA studios and played on the piano, singing “Mr. Sandman“. Gordy saw Gaye from afar and, noting that Gaye was connected with Fuqua, began to make arrangements to absorb Fuqua’s labels and bring all of the label’s acts to Motown. Gordy said he immediately wanted to bring Gaye to Motown after seeing him perform, impressed by his vocals and piano playing. While working out negotiations, Fuqua would sell a 50 percent interest in Gaye to Gordy, as Gaye would find out later. After Gordy absorbed Anna and Harvey in March 1961, Gaye was assigned to Motown’s Tamla division.
Gaye and Motown immediately clashed over material. While Motown was yet a musical force, Gaye set on singing standards and jazz rather than the usual rhythm and blues that fellow label mates were recording. Struggling to come to terms with what to do with his career, Gaye worked mainly behind the scenes, becoming a janitor, and also settled for session work playing drums on several recordings, which continued for several years. One of Gaye’s first professional gigs for Motown was as a road drummer for The Miracles. Gaye developed a close friendship with the label’s lead singer Smokey Robinson and they’d later work together. Though already a seasoned veteran of the road and almost exempt from Gordy’s Artist Development, which began operating in 1961, Gaye was still required to attend schooling, which he refused. He eventually took advice from grooming director Maxine Powell to keep his eyes open while performing because “it looks like you’re sleeping when you’re performing”. Gaye would later regret skipping the school saying he could’ve benefited more from it. Before releasing his first single in May 1961, he altered his last name to “Gaye”, later stating that he added the “e” because “it sounded more professional” and to emulate what Sam Cooke had done before releasing his first secular record following his split from the Soul Stirrers. A famous story about the name change came from author David Ritz, Gaye’s confidant in later years, who said Gaye had said that he wanted to “quiet the gossip” of his last name and to distance himself from his father.
In May 1961, Tamla released Gaye’s first single, “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide“. The single flopped as a national release but was a regional hit in the Midwest, as was a follow-up single, the cover of “Mr. Sandman” (titled as just “Sandman” in Gaye’s release in early 1962). In June 1961, Motown issued Gaye’s first album, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye compromising Gaye’s jazz interests with a couple of R&B songs. The album tanked and no hit single came of it. A third regional hit, “Soldier’s Plea“, an answer to The Supremes‘ “Your Heart Belongs to Me“, was the next release in the spring of 1962. Gaye had more success behind the scenes than in front. Gaye applied drumming on several Motown records for artists such as the Miracles, Mary Wells, The Contours and The Marvelettes. Gaye was also a drummer for early recordings by The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas and Little Stevie Wonder. Gaye drummed on the Marvelettes hits, “Please Mr. Postman“, “Playboy” and “Beechwood 4-5789” (a song he co-wrote). Later on, Gaye would be noted as the drummer in both the studio and live recordings of Wonder’s “Fingertips” and as one of two drummers behind Martha and the Vandellas’ landmark hit, “Dancing in the Street“, another composition by Gaye, originally intended for Kim Weston. Gaye said he continued to play drums for Motown acts even after gaining fame on his own merit. For Gaye’s fourth single, the singer was inspired to write lyrics to a song after an argument with his wife, Anna Gordy Gaye (née Anna Gordy). While working out the song, Gaye mentioned he had his first “major” power struggle with Motown head Berry Gordy over its composition. Gordy insisted on a chord change though Gaye was comfortable with how he wrote it, eventually Gaye changed the chord and the song was issued as “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” in September 1962. The song became a hit on the Hot Rhythm and Blues Sides chart reaching number 8 and eventually peaked at number 46 on the Billboard Hot 100 in early 1963. A parent album, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow, was released in December 1962, the same month that Gaye’s fifth single, “Hitch Hike“, was released. That song reached number 30 on the Billboard Hot 100, bringing Gaye his first top 40 single. His early success confirmed his arrival as a hit maker, and he landed on his first major tour as a performer on Motown’s Motortown Revue.
Early success (1963–66)
Gaye’s career following his performances with the Motortown Revue assured him success. Gaye’s next single, “Pride & Joy“, became a major hit in the spring of 1963, reaching number-ten on the Billboard Hot 100, selling nearly one million copies. Later that year, Gaye repeated the success with the top 30 hit, “Can I Get a Witness“, which found some leverage in the United Kingdom upon its release on Motown’s UK label Stateside Records. Many of Gaye’s early hits would later be heavily covered by acts such as The Rolling Stones, Dusty Springfield and The Who, performers who admired Gaye and American R&B music in general. Gaye’s hits also was a big influence on the UK’s mod scene with several mod groups including the future Elton John‘s Bluesology and Rod Stewart‘s Steampacket covering Gaye’s hits there. Gaye’s early hits were also a big influence on American producers, including Phil Spector, who nearly had a car accident while pulling over upon hearing “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” for the first time.
Gaye’s hits continued throughout 1964. Several top 20 pop hits from this period included “You Are a Wonderful One“, “Try It Baby” and “Baby Don’t You Do It” kept Gaye’s momentum building. Gaye made his first public TV performance on American Bandstand in 1964 and later became a fixture on the show and on other programs such as Shindig! and Hullaballoo. His popularity further increased after Motown released his first duet project, an album with Mary Wells entitled Together. The duo had two hit singles, “Once Upon a Time” and “What’s the Matter with You Baby“. In late 1964, Gaye also appeared in the concert film The T.A.M.I. Show, where he performed his hits to an enthusiastic audience (with backing vocals by The Blossoms). Gaye reached the top 10 in early 1965 with “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)“, which sold close to a million copies. Gaye eventually scored his first immediate million-sellers in 1965 with the Smokey Robinson compositions, “Ain’t That Peculiar” and “I’ll Be Doggone“. These songs and other singles released during the 1965–66 period would be the result of Gaye’s next release, Moods of Marvin Gaye.
Gaye struggled with his success. While deemed a “smooth song-and-dance ladies’ man”, he still aspired to perform more jazz work in his catalog. Because of his success, Motown allowed him to work on such recordings including When I’m Alone I Cry, Hello Broadway and a Nat King Cole tribute album, A Tribute to the Great Nat “King” Cole. All three albums flopped. Gaye tried performing the songs onstage but soon stopped once he discovered that the crowds weren’t too appreciative of the material. One proposed standards project, which took over two years to record, was shelved due to session problems. Gaye’s performances at the Copacabana in 1966 also led to conflict between Gaye and Gordy as Motown had recorded the album for purposes of releasing it in early 1967. However due to a struggle, Motown eventually shelved it until it was later released three decades later. In early 1967, Gaye scored his first international hit with the duet, “It Takes Two“, with Kim Weston, who ironically had already left the label when it became a hit. Only one televised performance of the song showed Gaye singing the song to a puppet. That year, Motown hooked Gaye up with veteran Philadelphia-based singer Tammi Terrell, who had an early stint with James Brown. Gaye would later say of Terrell that she was his “perfect partner” musically.
Tammi Terrell and I Heard It Through the Grapevine (1967–69)
Terrell and Gaye’s first major hit was the Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson composition, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough“. The duo quickly followed up with the top five hit ballad, “Your Precious Love“. Despite rumors of a romantic relationship – Gaye was married to Anna Gordy and Terrell was dating Temptations lead vocalist David Ruffin – both singers denied such a relationship with Gaye saying later that they had a brother-and-sister relationship, a statement reiterated by Ashford & Simpson. Other hit singles the duo scored within an eighteen-month period included “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You“, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” and “You’re All I Need to Get By“. Other hits such as “You Ain’t Livin’ till You’re Lovin’” and “The Onion Song” found success in Europe. The duo’s recording of “If This World Were Mine“, the b-side of “If I Could Build My Whole World Around You”, found modest success on the charts, the first sole Gaye composition to do so. The song later found major R&B success when Luther Vandross covered it with Cheryl Lynn over a decade later.
The duo was also a success together onstage, Terrell’s easy-going nature with the audience contrasting from Gaye’s laid-back approach. However, that success was short-lived. On October 14, 1967, while performing at Virginia’s Hampden-Sydney College, Terrell collapsed in Marvin’s arms. She had been complaining of headaches in the weeks leading up to the concert, but had insisted she was all right. However, after she was rushed to Southside Community Hospital, doctors found that Terrell had a malignant brain tumor.
The diagnosis ended her performing career, though she still occasionally recorded, often with guidance and assistance. Terrell ceased recordings in 1969 and Motown struggled with recording of a planned third Gaye and Terrell album. Gaye initially had refused to go along with it saying that he felt Motown was taking unnecessary advantage of Terrell’s illness. Gaye only reluctantly agreed because Motown assured him recordings would go to insure Terrell’s health as she continued to have operations to remove the tumor, all of which were unsuccessful. In September 1969, the third Gaye and Terrell duet album, Easy was released, with many of the songs saaid to have been subbed by Valerie Simpson, while solo songs recorded years earlier by Terrell, had overdubbed vocals by Gaye.
Terrell’s illness put Gaye in a depression; at one point he attempted suicide but was stopped by Berry Gordy’s father. He refused to acknowledge the success of his song “I Heard It Through the Grapevine“, released in 1967 by Gladys Knight & The Pips (his version was recorded before, but released after theirs), his first number-one hit and the biggest selling single in Motown history to that point, with four million copies sold His work with producer Norman Whitfield, who produced “Grapevine”, resulted in similar success with the singles “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and “That’s the Way Love Is“. Meanwhile, Gaye’s marriage was crumbling and he was bored with his music. Wanting creative control, he sought to produce singles for Motown session band The Originals, whose Gaye-produced hits, “Baby, I’m for Real” and “The Bells“, brought success.
What’s Going On (1970–72)
Tammi Terrell died of a brain tumor on March 16, 1970. Gaye was so emotional at her funeral that he talked to her lying in state as if she was going to respond. Gaye insisted, following Terrell’s death, that he would no longer record duets with any other female performer, nor was he ever going to perform on stage again since Terrell’s collapse and subsequent death had spooked him. He already had apprehensions about performing, suffering bouts of stage fright throughout his performing career. Prior to Terrell’s death, he had withdrawn from a scheduled performance citing an illness and was later sued for failure to appear. After Terrell’s death he stopped doing any more live gigs and never really recovered completely from her death. He had an inspiration, dating back to 1968, to try out for the Detroit Lions football team. After a tryout in early 1970, he wasn’t allowed to join the team though he gained friendships with two of its teammates, Mel Farr and Lem Barney. After helping to collaborate what became “What’s Going On“, he returned to Hitsville on June 1, 1970 to record the song, which was inspired by Gaye’s brother’s accounts of his experience at the Vietnam War and co-writer Renaldo “Obie” Benson of the Four Tops‘ disgust of police brutality after seeing anti-war protesters attacked in San Francisco.
Despite releases of several anti-war songs by The Temptations and Edwin Starr, Motown CEO Berry Gordy prevented Gaye from releasing the song, fearing a backlash against the singer’s image as a sex symbol and openly telling him and others that the song “was the worst record I ever heard”. Gaye, however, refused to record anything that was Motown’s or Gordy’s version of him. He later said that recording the song and its parent album “led to semi-violent disagreements between Berry and myself, politically speaking.” Eventually the song was released with little promotion on January 17, 1971. The song soon shot up the charts topping the R&B chart for five weeks. Eventually selling more than two million copies, an album was requested, and Gaye again defied Gordy by producing an album featuring lengthy singles that talked of other issues such as poverty, taxes, drug abuse and pollution. Released on May 21, 1971, the What’s Going On album instantly became a million-seller crossing him over to young white rock audiences while also maintaining his strong R&B fan base. Because of its lyrical content and its mixture of funk, jazz, classical and Latin soul arrangements which departed from the then renowned “Motown Sound“, it became one of Motown’s first autonomous works, without help of Motown’s staff producers. Based upon its themes and a segue flow into each of the songs sans the title track, the concept album became the new template for soul music.
Other hit singles that came out of the album included “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)“, making Gaye the first male solo artist to have three top ten singles off one album on the Billboard Hot 100. All three singles sold over a million copies and were all number-one on the R&B chart. International recognition of the album was slow to come at first though eventually the album would be revered overseas as a “landmark pop record”. It has been called “the most important and passionate record to come out of soul music, delivered by one of its finest voices”. The success of the title track influenced Stevie Wonder to release an album with similar themes, Where I’m Coming From, in April that year. Following the release of the album and its subsequent success, Wonder rejected a renewing offer with Motown unless he was allowed creative control on his recordings, which was granted a year later. Gaye’s independent success not only related to Motown recording artists, other R&B artists of the era also began to rebel against labels to produce their own conceptual albums. The Jackson 5, one of Motown’s final acts to benefit from the label’s “glory years” (1959–72), tried unsuccessfully to get creative control for their own recordings and as a result left in 1975 for CBS Records.
Gaye’s success was nationally recognized: Billboard magazine awarded him the Trendsetter of the Year award, while he won several NAACP Image Awards including Favorite Male Singer. Rolling Stone named it Album of the Year, and was nominated for a couple of Grammy Awards though inexplicably wasn’t nominated for Album of the Year. In 1972, Gaye reluctantly stepped out of his stage retirement to perform selected concerts, including one at his hometown of Washington, D.C. performing at the famed Kennedy Center, a recording of the performance was issued on a deluxe edition re-release of the What’s Going On album. Also in 1972, Gaye performed for Jesse Jackson‘s PUSH organization and also for a Chicago-based benefit concert titled Save the Children aimed at removing the plight of urban violence in Chicago’s inner city. The latter performance was issued as part of a concert film released in early 1973, also titled Save the Children. Following its success, Gaye signed a new contract with Motown Records for a then record-setting $1 million, then the most lucrative deal by a black recording artist. With creative control, Gaye attempted to produce several albums throughout 1972 and early 1973 including an instrumental album, a jazz album, another conceptually-produced album of social affairs (the canceled You’re the Man project) and an album with Willie Hutch co-producing. In late 1972, Gaye produced the score for the Trouble Man film and later produced the soundtrack of the same name. The title track was the only full vocal work of the album and was released as a single in the fall of 1972 eventually reaching number seven on the pop chart in the spring of 1973.
Let’s Get It On and continued success in music (1973–77)
In late 1972, Gaye left Detroit and moved to Los Angeles but relocated to an area where he was far away from Motown, purchasing a house at the so-called “bohemian hippie” Topanga Canyon Boulevard district, which was a hotbed for musicians looking to get away from the trappings of the music industry and Hollywood itself. He continued to record music at Los Angeles’ Motown studios (Hitsville West) and on March 18, 1973, recorded “Let’s Get It On“, reputedly inspired by Gaye’s new-found independence, after separating from Anna Gordy the previous year. The single was released as a single in June of the year and became Gaye’s second number-one single on the Billboard Hot 100. It also was a modest success internationally reaching number 31 in the United Kingdom. With the success of its recording, Gaye decided to switch completely from the social topics that were on What’s Going On to songs with sensual appeal.
Released in August 1973, Let’s Get It On consisted of material Gaye had initially recorded during the sessions of What’s Going On. It was hailed as “a record unparalleled in its sheer sensuality and carnal energy.” Other singles from the album included “Come Get to This“, which recalled Gaye’s early Motown soul sound of the previous decade, while the then-controversial “You Sure Love to Ball” reached modest success but was kept from being promoted by Motown due to its sexually explicit nature. With the success of What’s Going On and Let’s Get It On, Motown demanded a tour. Gaye only reluctantly agreed when demand from fans reached a fever pitch. After a delay, Gaye made his official return to touring on January 4, 1974 at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California. The recording of the performance, held by several music executives as “an event”, was later issued as the live album, Marvin Gaye Live!. Due to Gaye’s growing popularity with his increasing crossover audience and the reaction of the performance of “Distant Lover“, which Motown later released as a single in late 1974, the album sold over a million copies. Gaye’s subsequent 10-city tour, which took off that August, was sold out and demand for more dates continued into 1975 while Gaye had struggled with subsequent recordings. A renewed contract with Motown in 1975 gave Gaye his own custom-made recording studio.
To keep up with demand and hype, Motown released Gaye’s final duet project, Diana & Marvin, an album with Diana Ross, which helped to increase Gaye’s audience overseas with the duo’s recording of “You Are Everything” reaching number-five in the UK, number-thirteen on the Dutch chart, and number 20 in Ireland, while the album itself sold over a million copies overseas with major success in the UK. The recording of Diana & Marvin had started in late 1971 and overdubbed sessions took place in 1972 but was shelved from a release until late 1973 following the release of Let’s Get It On. Gaye toured throughout 1975 without new releases and collaborated in the studio producing songs for the likes of The Miracles (now without Smokey Robinson) and Yvonne Fair, helping to produce her version of Norman Whitfield‘s “Funky Music Sho Nuff Turns Me On”, featured on Fair’s The Bitch is Black, while also assisting her in the background with his vocals. Later in 1975, Gaye shaved his head bald in protest to Rubin Carter‘s prison sentence. Gaye initially insisted he would remain bald until Carter’s release though Gaye’s hair and beard returned within a few months.
In 1976, Gaye released his first solo album in three years with I Want You. The title track became a number-one R&B hit, also reaching the top 20 of the national pop chart. The first of his albums to embrace the then popular disco sound of the time, Motown released a double-A 12′ of “I Want You” alongside another smooth dancer, “After the Dance“. The songs found success as a unit on the Billboard Hot Disco chart, reaching number-ten. By itself “After the Dance”, which wasn’t intended as a second single, eventually reached number fourteen on the R&B chart with minor pop traction, eventually reaching number 74. That year, Gaye faced several lawsuits with former musicians and also faced prison time for falling behind on alimony payments ordered by law following his first wife Anna Gordy filing legal separation after a 15-year marriage. Gaye avoided imprisonment after agreeing to do a tour of Europe, his first tour of such in little over a decade. His first stop was at London’s Royal Albert Hall and then at the city’s London Palladium, where a recording was later released in early 1977 as Live at the London Palladium. Gaye performed in France, Holland, Switzerland and Italy to packed audiences and then returned for several US tour dates though he often suffered from exhaustion from some of the US dates. Between 1975 and 1976, Gaye was recognized by major corporations including the United Nations for charitable work dedicated to children and to affairs related to black culture.
In the spring of 1977, Gaye released “Got to Give It Up, Pt. 1“, which gave him his third number-one US pop hit, the final one Gaye released in his lifetime. The song also topped the R&B and dance singles chart and also found some international success reaching the top ten in England. Released as the only studio track from the Palladium album, its success kept Palladium on the charts for a year eventually selling over two million copies. It was recognized by Billboard as one of the top-ten selling albums of all time that year.
Here, My Dear and his final days at Motown (1978–81)
In March 1977, his long, drawn-out court battle with former wife Anna Gordy ended. As a compromise to settle matters between the ex-couple over issues of alimony payments for their adopted son, Gaye’s attorney until his death, Curtis Shaw, advised Gaye to remit a portion of the revenue that he was to get for his next studio album. Gaye entered the recording studio intending to produce a “lazy” album, but ended up with the sprawling double-album set, Here, My Dear, which was held up from release for over a year. Finally released after Motown’s demand for new product in late 1978, the album was initially a flop, tanking after only a couple months on the charts. Its only single, “A Funky Space Reincarnation“, peaked at number 23 on the R&B chart, in early 1979, becoming Gaye’s first single since “Soldier’s Plea” 17 years earlier to not hit the Billboard Hot 100.
Gaye became a figure on talk show circuits for most of 1979, mostly appearing on Dinah Shore‘s Dinah & Friends. He also toured in 1979, first in the United States, then in England and in Japan, the latter being the first time (and, as it turned out, the only time) he ever toured that country. As the year continued, Gaye found himself in trouble financially, and at home with second wife, Janis Hunter. The couple split up in 1979, nearly eighteen months after marrying, and by that fall, following a performance in Hawaii, Gaye decided to remain in the state, fearing he might be imprisoned for failing to pay the IRS millions in back taxes; in court, his attorney claimed that several items within the singer’s luggage, including tax returns, were stolen from him while at an airport. Meanwhile, Gaye, now heavily in the throes of drug addiction, struggled to record. Reports stated that while in Hawaii, Gaye lived inside a bread truck. He initially had planned to release a standards album titled The Ballads but discarded it, fearing fans would be disappointed by no recognizable hits on it. The singer then intended to release an album of love songs aimed for the disco audience titled Love Man, but within a year, however, Gaye thought of expressing his feelings about a possible Armageddon, as well as his battles of the heart. Gaye changed the titles of all the songs, rewrote lyrics, and retitled the album, In Our Lifetime, recording the album tracks while living in London in the middle of his exile.
A 1980 European tour followed, after Gaye made a deal with British promoter Jeffrey Kruger, who had looked after Gaye’s 1976–77 European tour and his Japanese engagement in 1979. Almost immediately, controversy arose, after Gaye failed to make the stage for Princess Margaret at the Royal Gala Charity Show. While Kruger recalls that Gaye showed up just as audiences were leaving, Gaye’s musicians recalled that Gaye performed to the few that stayed for the performance though Princess Margaret had already left. Though Princess Margaret denied it, the international press printed the news as an “embarrassing snub”, claiming that Gaye had deliberately arrived late. This led to a lawsuit between Gaye and Kruger that eventually settled out of court. While still in London, Gaye ran into problems when recordings of In Our Lifetime? were sent to Motown’s offices back in Los Angeles, initially as rough mixes, to get Motown’s response rather than intending to release it. However, desperate to release Marvin Gaye product, the label rushed the album out on January 15, 1981. Gaye was upset at the news, and accused the label of editing and remixing the album without his consent, putting out an unfinished song (“Far Cry”), altering the album art he requested, and removing the question mark from the title, muting its irony. Gaye vowed to never record another record for Motown. That summer, negotiations began to be made to release Gaye from the label. After several offers landed, Gaye accepted a deal for CBS Records, a deal that was finalized in March 1982.
Comeback and sudden death (1982–84)
On the advice of Belgian concert promoter Freddy Cousaert, Gaye moved to Ostend, Belgium, in February 1981 where for a time he cut down on drugs and began to get back in shape both physically and emotionally. While in Belgium, Gaye began to make plans to renew his declining fortunes in his professional career, starting with a tour he titled “The Heavy Love Affair Tour” in England where he was greeted more warmly by the same London press that had criticized him of the Princess Margaret snub the previous year. The tour ended with two concert dates in Ostend. A documentary leading up to his Belgian concert performances titled Transit Ostend was initially released to just Belgian fans, and was later issued on VHS in bootleg copies following Gaye’s death.
After signing with CBS’ Columbia Records division in 1982, Gaye worked on what became the Midnight Love album. Gaye reconnected with Harvey Fuqua while recording the album and Fuqua served as a production adviser on the album, which was released in October 1982. The parent single, “Sexual Healing“, was released to receptive audiences globally, reaching number-one in Canada, New Zealand and the US R&B singles chart, while becoming a top ten US pop hit and hitting the top ten in three other selected countries including the UK. The single became the fastest-selling and fastest-rising single in five years on the R&B chart staying at number-one for a record-setting ten weeks. Gaye wrote “Sexual Healing” while at the village Moere, near Ostend. Curtis Shaw later said that Gaye’s Moere period was “the best thing that ever happened to Marvin.” The now-famous video of “Sexual Healing” was shot at the Casino-Kursaal in Ostend. “Sexual Healing” won Gaye his first two Grammy Awards including Best Male Vocal Performance, in February 1983, and also won Gaye an American Music Award for Favorite Soul Single. It was called by People magazine “America’s hottest musical turn-on since Olivia Newton John demanded we get “Physical“.
The following year, he was nominated for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance again, this time for the Midnight Love album. In February 1983, Gaye performed “The Star-Spangled Banner” at the NBA All-Star Game, held at The Forum in Inglewood, California, accompanied by Gordon Banks who played the studio tape from stands. In March 1983, he gave his final performance in front of his old mentor Berry Gordy and the Motown label for Motown 25, performing “What’s Going On”. He then embarked on a US tour to support his album. The tour, ending in August 1983, was plagued by Gaye’s returning drug addictions and bouts with depression.
When the tour ended, he attempted to isolate himself by moving into his parents’ house in Los Angeles. As documented in the PBS “American Masters” 2008 exposé, several witnesses claimed Marvin’s mental and physical condition spiraled out of control. Groupies and drug dealers hounded Marvin night and day. He threatened to commit suicide several times after bitter arguments with his father. On April 1, 1984, Gaye’s father fatally shot him when Gaye intervened in an argument between his parents over misplaced business documents. Ironically, the gun had been given to his father by Marvin Jr. four months previously. Marvin Gaye would have celebrated his 45th birthday the next day. Doctors discovered Marvin Sr. had a brain tumor but he was deemed fit for trial and was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter. Charges of first-degree murder were dropped when it was revealed that Gaye had beaten Marvin Sr. before the killing. Spending his final years in a retirement home, he died of pneumonia in 1998.
In 1987, Marvin Gaye Jr. was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He was also honored by Hollywood’s Rock Walk in 1989 and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990. In 2005, Marvin Gaye Jr. was admitted into the Michigan Rock and Roll Legends Hall of Fame. In 2007, two of Gaye’s most important recordings, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” and “What’s Going On”, were voted Legendary Michigan Songs. “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, his hit duet with Tammi Terrell, was voted a Legendary Michigan Song in 2011.
Gaye married twice. His first marriage was to Berry Gordy Jr.’s sister, Anna Gordy, who was 18 years his senior. Marvin and Anna were married on January 8, 1964 when Gaye was 24 and Gordy was 42. The marriage imploded after Marvin began courting Janis Hunter, the daughter of Slim Gaillard, in 1973. Anna filed for divorce in 1975; the divorce was finalized in March 1977. Gaye’s erotic and disco-tinged studio album I Want You was based on his relationship with Hunter. In his book Mercy, Mercy Me: The Art, Loves, and Demons of Marvin Gaye, author and music writer Michael Eric Dyson elaborated on the relationship between I Want You and the relationship Gaye had with Hunter, which influenced his music:
“I Want You” is unmistakably a work of romantic and erotic tribute to the woman he deeply loved and would marry shortly, Janis Hunter (Janis Gaye). Gaye’s obsession with the woman in her late teens is nearly palpable in the sensual textures that are the album’s aural and lyrical signature. Their relationship was relentlessly passionate and emotionally rough-hewn; they played up each other’s strengths, and played off each other’s weaknesses.
In October 1976, he married Janis, who was 17 years old when they met. However, the marriage dissolved within a year. After attempts at reconciliation, Janis filed for divorce in 1979. The divorce was finalized in February 1981. During this time, Marvin began dating a model from the Netherlands named Eugenie Vis. In 1982 Gaye became involved with Lady Edith Foxwell, former wife of the British movie director Ivan Foxwell, and spent time with her at Sherston, her Wiltshire estate. Foxwell ran the fashionable Embassy Club and was referred to in the media as “the queen of London cafe society.” The story of their affair was told by Stan Hey in the April 2004 issue of GQ. The report quoted writer/composer Bernard J. Taylor as saying he was told by Foxwell that she and Gaye had discussed marriage.
Marvin Gaye was killed by his father on April 1, 1984; during an argument.
Gaye had three children. Marvin Pentz Gaye III (b. 1965), by Denise Gordy, the niece of his first wife Anna Gordy. Marvin III was also adopted by his first wife Anna. The singer disclosed this in David Ritz‘s biography on Gaye, Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye, saying he was afraid of being criticized for not producing a child. Later, Gaye had two children with Janis Hunter, Nona Marvisa, nicknamed “Pie” by her dad (born September 4, 1974) and Frankie “Bubby” Christian Gaye (born November 16, 1975). Gaye introduced his daughter to a national audience during a show in 1975. Nona would do the same eight years later when her father was given a tribute by Soul Train. Nona has gone on to find success as a singer and actress. Gaye’s eldest son was a music producer. Frankie is said to have taken work as an artist. Gaye also has two grandchildren: Marvin Pentz Gaye IV (b. 1995), born on the anniversary of his grandfather’s death; and Nolan Pentz Gaye (b. 1997).
Marvin Gaye’s musical style changed in various ways throughout his 26-year career. Upon his early recordings as member of The Marquees and Harvey & the New Moonglows in the late 1950s, Marvin recorded in a doo-wop vocal style. After signing his first solo recording contract with Motown, Marvin persuaded Motown executives to allow him to record an adult album of standards and jazz covers. His first album, The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye, conveyed those genres including several doo-wop and blues songs.
The Motown Sound and psychedelic soul
Starting with his first charted hit, 1962’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” through 1967’s “Your Unchanging Love”, Marvin’s music featured a blend of black rhythm and blues and white pop music that came to be later identified as the “Motown Sound“. Marvin’s 1962–64 hits reflected a dance-pop/rock ‘n’ roll approach while his 1965–69 recordings reflected a pop-soul style. Backed by Motown’s in-house band The Funk Brothers, pre-1970 Marvin Gaye recordings were built around songs with simple, direct lyrics supported by an R&B rhythm section with orchestral strings and horns added for pop appeal. Marvin’s early hits were conceived by Berry Gordy, Smokey Robinson, Mickey Stevenson and Holland-Dozier-Holland.
Marvin’s sound started to change slightly in 1967 after he began working with producers Norman Whitfield, Ashford & Simpson and Frank Wilson. Whereas Marvin’s early sound reflected a youthful exterior, later songs during that period including “You”, “Chained”, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”, “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby” and “That’s the Way Love Is” were all recorded under the psychedelic soul sound of the late sixties and early seventies. “Psychedelic soul” mixed guitar-driven rock with soul-based grooves. Marvin’s vocal style also changed during that period where he began singing in a gospel texture that had been only hinted at in previous recordings.
Social commentary and conceptual albums
In 1971, Marvin issued his landmark album, What’s Going On. The album and its tracks were responsible in the changing landscape of rhythm and blues music as the album presented a full view of social ills in America, including war, police brutality, racism, drug addiction, environmentalism, and urban decay. Beforehand, recordings of social unrest had been recorded by the likes of (Curtis Mayfield &) The Impressions, The Temptations, Sam Cooke, Sly and the Family Stone and James Brown, but this was the first album fully devoted to those issues. The album was produced under what is called a song cycle and because of its theme of “what’s going on” was considered one of the first concept albums to be released in soul music. Marvin’s 1972 soundtrack Trouble Man, based on the blaxploitation film of the same name, mainly featured instrumentals with a few vocal runs, including songs with social commentary. Marvin’s 1972 recordings outside that album – including “Where Are We Going”, “Piece of Clay”, “You’re the Man” and “The World Is Rated X” – also raised social issues and was personal in nature. The songs were to be included in the unreleased 1972 album, You’re the Man, which was canceled after the modest reception of the title single. Marvin issued his next “concept album” with 1973’s Let’s Get It On, based on the spiritual and erotic side of love and sex. Marvin released a similarly themed funk album in 1976, I Want You, before switching to personal issues with the albums Here, My Dear (1978) and In Our Lifetime (1981). The former album focused on Marvin’s problems in his first marriage, while the latter focused on his own life struggles. Marvin’s albums between 1971 and 1981 reflected a period where, as an Allmusic writer said, his music “not only redefined soul music as a creative force but also expanded its impact as an agent for social change”.
From funk to disco to contemporary R&B
Starting in the early-seventies, Marvin’s sound began to reflect the emerging sounds of funk and the later disco movement of the late 1970s. Marvin’s double-sided 1976 single, “I Want You/After the Dance” and his 1977 hit, “Got to Give It Up” were his only successful attempts at recording disco-styled dance music whereas the 1978 single “A Funky Space Reincarnation”, 1979’s “Ego Tripping Out” and the 1981 singles “Praise” and “Heavy Love Affair” aimed at the funk-based urban audience. By itself, “I Want You“, mixed funk with disco, soul and lite rock elements. With the release of 1982’s triple-platinum Midnight Love and the massive platinum selling smash hit, “Sexual Healing”, Marvin mixed the styles of funk and post disco with Caribbean and European-flavored pop music creating a mix that influenced the modern R&B sound. “Sexual Healing” was the biggest R&B hit of the 1980s – No.1 for 10 consecutive weeks. Some of Marvin’s posthumous releases have been varied in nature: 1985’s Dream of a Lifetime was produced mostly in an electro funk sound mostly in the first half of the album, while his posthumous “featuring” on rapper Erick Sermon‘s 2001 hit, “Music” brought him to a younger hip-hop audience.
Legacy and influence
According to several historians, Marvin Gaye’s career “spanned the entire history of rhythm and blues from fifties doo-wop to eighties contemporary soul.”  Critics stated that Gaye’s music “signified the development of black music from raw rhythm and blues, through sophisticated soul to the political awareness of the 1970s and increased concentration on personal and sexual politics thereafter.” Marvin’s usage of multi-tracked vocalizing, recording songs of social, political and sexual issues, and producing albums of autobiographical nature have influenced a generation of recording artists of various genres. As an artist who broke away from the controlled atmosphere of Motown Records in the 1970s, he influenced the careers of label mates such as Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers and, later in Epic Records, Michael Jackson to gain creative control and produce/co-produce their own albums. The careers of later R&B stars such as Rick James, Prince, R. Kelly, D’Angelo, Raheem DeVaughn, Maxwell, Janet Jackson, George Michael, Justin Timberlake, Usher, Bobby V and J. Holiday also were influenced by the music of Marvin Gaye. Marvin’s erotically concept albums such as Let’s Get It On and I Want You inspired similar albums released by Smokey Robinson, Barry White and his co-producer on I Want You, Leon Ware. Modern-day artists such as Teena Marie and Mary J. Blige have also referenced Marvin in their own songs. In 2004, Rolling Stone ranked him No.18 on their list of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time”.