One of the greatest American soul singers of all time was Marvin Gaye. For many, he is the greatest soul singer of all time and there’s absolutely no contemporary singer who can hold a candle to his incredible body of work.
But as we listen to his melodious voice, we must remember that his upbringing and life’s journey wasn’t the easiest. He had a tumultuous relationship with his father, he struggled to succeed with his music at one point, and he even once quit music for a very different career.
Without question, the Life and Times of Marvin Gaye is one of the most interesting biopics we’ve covered. If you don’t know the story, be prepared for a thrill…
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MARVIN GAYE’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Marvin Pentz Gay Jr., was born on April 2nd, 1939, in Washington D.C. His mother, Alberta, was a homemaker and his father, Marvin Sr. was a preacher.
He grew up in a housing project and the family lived on a modest income. As a child, he began singing in church while his father accompanied him on the piano. He loved singing and clearly, he had a talent as members of the congregation would offer praise for his talent. He also sang in school concerts and by the time he was a teenager, he knew that he wanted to pursue singing as a career.
While his father supported him and helped him become a great singer, he was also brutal if the young Marvin made mistakes while he was singing. Marvin Jr.’s childhood often consisted of beatings from Marvin Sr. each time he had problems with singing.
At times, Marvin Jr. couldn’t handle this at all, and he fell into a deep depression. He often considered suicide, but his kind mother encouraged him to pursue singing and was always gentle with him.
While a high school student he joined local doo-wop groups, and this relatively new genre would influence much of his early music career. At age 17, he dropped out of high school and briefly served as a basic airman in the US Air Force. However, he had troubles finding orders and he was discharged from the Air Force.
His first professional group was The Marquees which he formed with his friend Reese Palmer. Eventually, it fell under the management of Harvey Fuqua and was renamed as Harvey and The New Moonglows. At this time, Marvin began composing music as well as singing. The band had moderate success with a few releases but not much came of their career.
Marvin eventually left the band and was ready to pursue his solo career. He had relocated to Detroit and had met Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records. He signed on to Motown’s subsidiary Tamla Records.
He began performing solo songs and eventually he became a well-known singer. Some of his best songs from his early career include “Ain’t That Pecular” “I’ll Be Doggone” and “Can I Get A Witness.”
Many of his earliest great songs were also duets with Tammi Tarrell. It was also at this time that he added the ‘e’ to his surname.
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MARVIN GAYE ONCE QUIT MUSIC FOR A VERY DIFFERENT CAREER
Whether you’re a fan of Marvin Gaye or not, you probably have heard and can sing along to ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’ by him and Tammi Tarell. The two of them became great friends and enjoyed working together.
Then, tragedy struck in 1970. By this time, Marvin Gaye had become one of the most popular soul singers of his generation, yet he was still not a major star – though he was well on his way to becoming one.
Tammi Tarell had sadly been diagnosed with cancer and she died from brain cancer in 1970 – when she was only 24 years old.
Naturally, Marvin Gaye was saddened by his death. But perhaps no one would expect that he was actually traumatized by her death and he decided that he would never perform or record music again. He decided to quit music for a very different career.
He had always been a fan of the Detroit Lions and wanted to play on the team. Unfortunately for him, though fortunately for us, he wasn’t allowed to try out for the team as the then coach Joe Schmidt didn’t want Marvin Gaye to get injured playing football.
He had no choice but to return to music. By this time, musical tastes had changed and soul music had evolved. Marvin Gaye had to follow suit…
MARVIN GAYE’S COMEBACK
In the summer of 1970, Marvin returned to Motown and decided to record his next album. The album was going to be soulful but would also have a deeper message. He was still recovering from Tammi Tarrell’s passing and wanted to create music that was more meaningful.
The album was called ‘What’s Going On’ and it’s still considered one of the greatest albums of all time. The title song was inspired by the Watts Riots that had occurred in 1965. No doubt the Vietnam War also had an influence. The song laments the violence that surrounds war and its arguably one of the most melodious protest songs ever – though on first listen you might not even realize it.
It’s one of his most beautiful songs and can still send chills down your spine if you listen to it today.
The song was such a success that Marvin Gaye was given more creative control over his music.
Some of Marvin Gaye’s best songs during this period included:
- Inner City Blues
- Mercy Mercy Me
- Trouble Man
- The World Is Rated X
- Funk Me
- I Want You
- Got to Give It Up
- I Heard It Through The Grapevine and
- Distant Lover
Among so many others. Of course, his other great album released during the 1970s was Let’s Get It On and the title track from this album is one of his greatest love ballads – and only one other song of his – which we’ll get to later – could match up to the success.
Marvin Gaye was now the most popular soul singer in the world. He would perform at concerts around the country and around the world. He was featured on popular music programs such as Soul Train and he seemed unstoppable.
However, this would come crashing down in the late 1970s. He divorced his wife Anna Gordy – Berry Gordy’s elder sister. He fell into a depression once again and even developed a cocaine habit. His 1978 album, Here My Dear was a major flop.
The 1970s was the decade Marvin Gaye became a star. It was also the decade that he had his downfall.
Yet, all was not lost. Just as he managed to recover from the death of Tammi Tarrell, he found a way to make a comeback when the 1980s approached.
He had exiled himself to Europe and lived in Belgium briefly. He also ran into tax problems and had serious financial issues. Yet, it was in Belgium that he recorded his last great song.
From the apartment he was staying in Belgium, he recorded the album Midnight Love – which was in-tune with the changing sound of the 1980s. The biggest hit on this album was, of course, “Sexual Healing” which became the other love ballad that he would become most famous for.
It was 1982 and Marvin Gaye was back on top and was once again the greatest living soul singer.
Sadly, this too had to come to an end…
THE TRAGIC DEATH OF MARVIN GAYE
While his father was no doubt proud of his success, Marvin Sr. and Marvin Jr. had many issues over the years.
On April 1st 1984, one day before his 45th birthday, Marvin was at the family house when his parents got into a fight. His father began beating his mother and was brandishing an insurance policy while hitting her. The entire argument revolved around an issue relating to this insurance policy.
Marvin intervened and tried to pull his father away from his mother.
Unfortunately, this only angered Marvin Sr. Marvin Gaye pushed his father and ordered him to stay away from his mother. Marvin Gaye eventually returned to his room – thinking that the commotion would be over.
Only a few minutes later, Marvin Sr. entered Marvin Jr.’s bedroom – and shot his own son with a .38 pistol – instantly killing him. The sad irony was, that Marvin Jr. had gifted this gun to his father for Christmas.
Marvin Gaye’s death shocked the music industry and his father who received a six year suspended sentence later stated his regret for his actions. Marvin Gaye’s life was full of tragedy and literally had ups and downs. Upon reflecting on his life, one can only focus on the sadder aspects of this troubled genius.
But we should also remember the great music he left behind for us…and for that, we will always be grateful…
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Marvin Gaye’s? Did you know about his desire to try out for the Detroit Lions?
In fact, here’s what we want to know from you:
Do you think that there is a contemporary R & B singer who has the same impact that Marvin Gaye once had?
Or is there absolutely no one who can come close to taking his place?
Let’s hear your thoughts in the comments.
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We’ll see you in the next video!