Marvin Gaye

  • R&B/soul singer musician, born Marvin Gay, in 1939, in Washington D.C. Died in 1984, shot and killed by his father during an argument.
  • Gaye began singing at church at age 4, and became serious about singing in junior high school. In high school, he joined several doo-wop groups.
  • After a short time in the air force, he and a friend formed a vocal quartet in 1957, The Marquees. They performed in the D.C. area, and they began working with Bo Diddley. They recorded one single – Wyatt Earp – written by Diddley, that did not chart. The group then merged into Harvey and the New Moonglows, and they moved to Chicago. The group recorded some singles, and worked as background singers for acts like Chuck Berry.
  • In 1960, the group disbanded. Gaye moved to Detroit, and signed with Tri-Phi Records as a session drummer. Motown president Barry Gordy heard him perform, and signed him. He added the ‘e’ to the end of his name at this time, to end speculation about his sexuality, and to distance himself from his father.
  • His first single and album were released in 1961 – Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide, on the album The Soulful Moods of Marvin Gaye. The album was mostly covers of jazz and pop standards of the day. The album and single were not successful, and Gaye continued as a session musician for $5 per week.
  • In 1962, his second album was released, That Stubborn Kinda Fellow. This record contained original songs co-written by Gaye, and had more of an R&B sound. Singles began to make the Billboard charts, with Pride and Joy hitting #10 on the Billboard 100 chart and hitting #2 on the R&B chart.
  • Over the following 18 years, Gaye’s records were very successful, with 16 singles hitting the top 10 in the charts, and 3 songs peaking at #1 – I Heard it Through the Grapevine, Let’s Get It On, and Got to Give It Up.
  • Gaye also had success singing duets with R&B women like Tammi Terrell, Kim Weston, Mary Wells, and Diana Ross.
  • His song What’s Going On initially was not released because Barry Gordy thought it was too political for radio – its inspiration was a police brutality incident in Berkeley. Gaye responded by going on strike from recording, which forced its release. It hit #1 on the R&B chart and #2 on the Hot 100 chart, selling over 2 million records. Its success led to a new recording contract for Gaye with Motown, worth $1 million, making him the highest paid black artist of that time.
  • In the late 70s, his career was faltering, he was hooked on cocaine, and he was dealing with serious tax issues with the IRS. He got out of his contract with Motown, moved to Europe, and worked on a comeback. The result was his most successful single – Sexual Healing. The song won 2 Grammy awards, and the album, Midnight Love, sold over 6 million copies worldwide.
  • In 2015, Gaye’s family was awarded $7.3 million in damages when they won a lawsuit against Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke for using part of Gaye’s song Got To Give It Up in their song Blurred Lines. 
  • He issued 25 studio albums, 4 live albums and 83 singles in his career. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and in 1996 he posthumously received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. Rolling Stone ranked him #18 on their Greatest Artists of All Time list, and his album What’s Going On was ranked #6 on the Greatest Albums list.
  • Gaye had a three octave vocal range, and he used three distinct voices – a sweet tenor, a growling rasp, and a falsetto. He used all three on the song What’s Going On, with Gaye recording each voice separately and overdubbing on the studio recording. See if you can pick out the styles on this live recording.

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