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Marvin Gaye – Silky Soul Singer


by Erika Cox

Marvin Gaye has been rightfully given the nickname of “Silky Soul Singer.” His voice was silky smooth full of passion, emotion, and plenty of soul. He contributed to the diversity of rock and roll during the 1960’s, 70’s, and even with a strong comeback in the mid-80’s until his untimely death.

Marvin Gay, Jr. (he added the “e” later on) was born on April 2, 1939 in Washington, DC. His father was a preacher and known for being very strict. Gaye began singing in his father’s church when he was just a small boy. After high school, he briefly joined the U.S. Air force but was discharged for not obeying orders. He returned to D.C. to start a singing career where he sang doo-wop on the street corners with several doo-wop groups and eventually formed his own group in 1957, the Marquees, with Bo Didley singing as back up. In 1958, after the group recorded their first song they were noticed by Harvey Fuqua, a record and band promoter. Fuqua renamed the group the Moonglows. However, the group would disband shortly after. Fugua knew there was something special about Gaye and introduced him to Motown Records, but it was Berry Gordy’s sister, Gwen, who introduced Gaye to Berry Gordy.

Gordy signed Gaye as a drummer to the label. He played drums on most of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ songs. Gaye eventually got his own record deal with Motown as a singer and starting making records with many of them becoming hits on the R&B and Pop charts. His first hit in 1962 was “Stubborn Kind of Fellow.” Gaye went on to record a number of hit records that mostly dealt with relationships. He eventually married Gordy’s other sister, Anne, but the marriage was very rocky and ended in the 1970’s. Shortly after, Gaye married Janis Hunter, which also eventually ended in divorce. Marvin teamed up with Tami Terrell and had a number of hits until Terrell became ill with a brain tumor and died in 1970.

Gaye became extremely depressed over Terrell’s sickness and death and sought drugs and alcohol as a way to deal with his problems, however, he continued to record albums. Gaye recorded one of his most popular albums, “What’s Going On” in 1971.

He would also team up with Diana Ross and record hit songs. All the while, Gaye was suffering from major financial and a serious drug problem. Eventually he tried to find solace, he retreated to Hawaii and then to Belgium to get some sort of inner and spiritual healing. At the same time, Gaye slowly became displeased with Motown due to musical differences, Gaye wanted complete musical freedom and did not want to conform to the strict rules of Gordy’s leadership at Motown. He didn’t like to be told what to do or how to do it and would often rebel.

The final straw with Motown was when the label released one of Gaye’s records in 1981 without him knowing or approving it. Gaye abruptly left Motown and signed with Columbia records in 1982. He released an album that contained the very successful hit song, “Sexual Healing”, which was seen as a great and welcomed comeback for Gaye.

With “Sexual Healing” Gaye finally got the long overdue respect he deserved from some in the music industry when he won his first Grammy for the hit song. Gaye had encountered newfound fame with “Sexual Healing.” Gaye performed a very emotional and historic performance of the Star Spangled Banner at the NBA All-Star game.

He tried to tour but often encountered health problems. But despite all of his renewed fame and fortune, recognition and respect, Gaye couldn’t work out his differences with the main person he sought love and approval from, his father. Unfortunately, his problems and depression stayed with him and he continued to battle his drug addiction, which made him become paranoid. Still suffering from financial and drug problems Gaye lived with his parents. On April 1, 1984 one day before his 45th birthday, Gaye was shot and killed by his father. The shooting stemmed from an argument his parents were having over bills. Gaye’s father physically attacked his mother and Gaye confronted his father. Some say Gaye threatened suicide often and this was a way for him to end his life.

His father was sentenced to five years of probation after pleading guilty of manslaughter. First-degree murder charges were dropped after it was discovered that his father had a brain tumor, he died in 1998 from pneumonia. After Gaye’s death, Motown and Columbia released some of Gaye’s unrecorded material and he received numerous awards and recognition shortly after his death. There have been many tributes and remakes of his songs by various artists from most of the music genres.

Gaye was very influential to many artists while he was alive and after his death. He was seen as a groundbreaker that expressed self-expression and freedom through his music. He refused to follow anyone’s style or anyone’s demands to be a certain type of artist or record certain types of songs. He recorded, sang, and performed what he felt and giving everything he had. Three years after his death in 1987, Marvin Gaye was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

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