Gaye, Marvin

Gaye, Marvin, 1939-1984, African-American singer and songwriter, b. Washington, D.C., as Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. Gaye’s father was a minister, and Gaye began singing in the church choir when he was just four years old. He formed several semi-amateur doowop groups while attending high school, but then dropped out to enroll in the Air Force, only to be discharged soon after for refusing to follow orders. On his return to Washington, he formed the Marquees; Harvey Fuqua of the Moonglows heard the group, and encouraged them to relocate to Detroit, where they performed as the New Moonglows. Berry Gordyof Motown records was impressed by Gaye’s singing and signed him in 1961, initially having him record jazz standards, while Gaye worked as a session drummer for the label’s other acts. He had his first solo hit with “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” (1962, #8 R&B; #46, pop); other ‘60s hits included “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” (1965, #3 R&B; #6, pop), several duets with singer Tammi Terrell, including “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1967, #3 R&B; #19, pop), and the solo hit, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” (1968, #1 pop). Frustrated with the constraints of recording in Motown’s hit-making style, Gaye recorded the song, “What’s Going On” in 1970; wary of its political theme, the label initially refused to release it, but it was a bestseller once it was issued in 1971. The song became the title track of Gaye’s best-known album, released in 1972, that addressed issues of poverty, racism, and ecology. In 1973, he courted controversy for a different reason with the sexually suggestive hit “Let’s Get It On” (#1 pop). After a downturn in his career from the mid-‘70s-early ‘80s due to his drug addiction and tax problems, Gaye returned to the charts with the single “Sexual Healing” (1982, #1 pop), his biggest career success, which earned him his first two Grammy Awards. However, Gaye’s life and career were cut short when he was shot by his father while seeking to restrain him from assaulting his mother in 1984. Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and the NAACP Hall of Fame in 1988, among other honors.

See the biographies by D. Ritz (1985), S. Turner (2000), M. E. Dyson (2005).

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