Legendary soul singer Marvin Gaye would’ve celebrated his 71st birthday today.
Marvin’s early years in the music industry were spent singing in doo wop groups like The Moonglows, and working as a session drummer for Motown acts like The Miracles, The Contours, Martha & The Vandellas, and The Marvellettes. Marvin played drums on Little Stevie Wonder’s breakout single “Fingertips Pt. 2” in 1963.
His first album as a solo artist, 1961’s The Soulful Moods Of Marvin Gaye, contained jazz influenced covers of Broadway showtunes and went largely unnoticed. Gaye wouldn’t find success on the charts until a year later when his single “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” became a hit. A long string of Top 40 singles followed including “Hitch Hike,” “Pride & Joy” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” to name a few.
Marvin found quite a bit of success in the 1960s recording duets with artists like Mary Wells and Kim Weston. However it was Tammi Terrell who Marvin would find the most success with. Marvin and Tammi recorded several monster singles together including “You’re All I Need To Get By” and “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing.”
During a 1967 concert, Tammi Terrell collapsed on stage in Marvin’s arms. She was later diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Terrell’s illness threw Marvin into a deep depression, even as he released the song that became his first number one single, and the biggest selling record in Motown history at that point. She died three years later on March 16, 1970.
Immediately after Tammi’s death, Marvin considered quitting the music business to become a football player. He even tried out for the Detroit Lions. When that didn’t pan out, Marvin returned to the studio and planted the seeds that would later blossom into his best known work, the What’s Going On album.
Initially met with skepticism from Motown head, Berry Gordy, Marvin insisted that the politically charged song “What’s Going On” be released as a single. Gordy relented, and the song became a runaway hit.
Marvin had continued success throughout the 70s releasing classic album after album – Let’s Get It On, I Want You, Here My Dear, among others. By the close of the decade, Marvin’s personal demons had caught up to him and his addiction to drugs, and masochistic personality began to take their toll on his career.
Marvin retreated first to Hawaii, then to Belgium where he regrouped and put together what would be his final album, 1982’s Midnight Love. The album would spawn Marvin’s last top 10 single, “Sexual Healing.” The song would also earn Marvin his first Grammy Award and prove that Marvin was back.
Marvin’s comeback was strengthened by an appearance at the 1983 NBA All-Star game where Marvin transformed “The Star Spangled Banner” into a smooth soul groove to the delight of the audience.
Unfortunately, Marvin’s comeback was short-lived. On the morning of April 1, 1984, after an argument, Marvin was shot to death by his father in his parents’ home.