Today (April 1st) marks the 28th anniversary of the death of Marvin Gaye, with tomorrow (April 2nd) marking what would have been the singer’s 74th birthday.
Marvin Pentz Gay Jr. (the “e” in his last name was added later) was born in Washington, D.C. in 1939. The son of a minister, he began singing in church at the age of three. After a stint in the armed forces, he returned to Washington and began singing in local doo-wop groups. In 1957 he formed his own group, the Marquees, whose recordings were produced by their friend and supporter Bo Diddley. The following year singer Harvey Fuqua recruited the group to be his backing vocalists in the then-current lineup of his group Harvey & the Moonglows, and they recorded for the legendary Chess Records label.
Gaye left the Moonglows in 1960 and signed to Gwen Gordy‘s Anna label, a subsidiary of then fledgling Motown Records, which was owned by Gwen’s brother Berry Gordy Jr. Gaye played drums for the Miracles and sang backup for the Marvelettes. The following year, he signed to Motown as a solo artist and married Berry Gordy’s sister Anna.
Marvin’s first recordings made little impact on the charts. His fourth release, 1962′s “Stubborn Kind Of Fellow” — featuring backing vocals by Martha & the Vandellas — was his first recording to chart. In 1963, “Pride and Joy” went to the Top 10. Although Gaye sang duets with numerous female vocalists, including Mary Wells, his best-known pairing was with Tammi Terrell. The collaboration began in 1967 and resulted in hits such as “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.” That same year, 1967, Terrell collapsed in Gaye’s arms during a concert in Virginia and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The duo continued to record together until Terrell’s death in 1970.
In 1968, Gaye scored his biggest solo hit of the ’60s, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine,” which stayed at Number One for seven weeks. When Terrell died in 1970, a grief-stricken Gaye withdrew from the public eye, emerging the following year to sing the National Anthem at Super Bowl V.
Gaye’s writing became more socially conscious, and in 1971 he released the watershed album What’s Going On, which spawned the hits “What’s Going On,” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).” In 1973 he scored the movie Trouble Man, and that same year his writing began to explore more erotic themes with the release of the classic album, Let’s Get It On.