Encyclopedia Of Detroit

Gaye, Marvin

Born Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. on April 2, 1939 in Washington, D.C., the son of a Pentecostal preacher, singer Marvin Gaye would go on to become one of Motown Records’ most famous artists. Joining his first musical group in high school, the DC Tones, he dropped out of school when he was 17 to escape his father’s abuse. The troubled relationship with his father would continue the rest of his life.

Following a one-year stint in the U.S. Air Force, he returned to D.C. to join the Marquees, signing a contract with Columbia. The Marquees morphed into Harvey and the Moonglows, led by Harvey Fuqua who would be instrumental in advancing Gaye’s career. It was through Fuqua, who had started working for Anna Records, owned by Gwen and Anna Gordy, that Gaye met their brother Berry Gordy, Jr

Working first as a drummer and backup singer, Gaye began recording with Motown Records in 1961. As a person, Gaye preferred crooning and singing standards like those of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. The leaders of Motown Records, however, believed that Gaye could become a major pop and R&B success. On his first single with Motown, “Let Your Conscience be Your Guide,” the record label added “e” to his last name, by one account. Other accounts say the singer added the “e” himself to avoid the association of “gay” with homosexuality.

His first Motown hit was “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” in 1962. He later sang “Hitch Hike,” “Pride and Joy,” “Can I Get a Witness,” and the famous, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” Smokey Robinson wrote him two songs “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Ain’t That Peculiar” in 1965. Gaye married Berry Gordy’s sister, Anna, in 1963, a marriage which ended in 1977.

In 1968 Gaye came out with “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” which was a chart-topper for seven weeks. Despite his success as a solo artist, Gaye was also famous for his duets with singers like Mary Wells, with whom he sang “Once Upon a Time” and Kim Weston, with whom he sang “It Takes Two.” His most famous duets, though, were with singer Tammi Terrell. Even though there was no romance between them, they convincingly portrayed lovers in song after song, including the popular “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing,” and “Your Precious Love.”

Marvin Gaye’s best-known album, What’s Going On? was created in reaction to Tammi Terrell’s untimely death from a brain tumor in 1970. After sinking into a depression and going into seclusion for over a year after her death, Gaye released this album. Its massive hit songs helped cement Gaye’s reputation as Motown’s number one solo male artist.

In 1982, after several years of declining sales, Gaye once again hit it big, this time with the hit “Sexual Healing.” The single stayed at number one on the Billboard charts for 10 weeks and earned Gaye his first two Grammy awards.

On April 1, 1984, one day before his 45th birthday, Marvin Gaye was shot to death by his father, Marvin Gay, Sr. during a family argument. It was later determined that Gay Sr. was suffering from a brain tumor.

Marvin Gaye was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990. In 2000 “What’s Going on” was on National Public Radio’s list of 100 most important music of the 20th century.



Rolling Stone Magazine featuring Marvin Gaye, 1984

"The Marvin Gaye Collection" CD album, 1990

View all items related to Marvin Gaye