Greetings, thREADERS! I know, I know. I was supposed to be doing these Black History 24/7 installments on a weekly basis, and I fell off. Just for that, though, I intend to give you a “double dose” – one today, and one later this weekend. In case you may have missed the memo, this year, I’ve been inspired to start up a Black History 24/7 campaign since Black History Month just wasn’t enough this year (is it ever, though?). You can peep the first installment here.
On this day in Black History – April 1, 1984 – one of the true pioneers and greats in R&B (hell, in music period), Marvin Gaye, died.
Marvin Pentz Gay, Jr. saw his professional musical beginnings, as most stars often do, as a member of a group, The New Moonglows of Chess Records. Gay caught the eye of then star-maker extraordinaire Berry Gordy, and in 1961, after The New Moonglows disbanded, he was assigned to the Tamla division of Motown Records. Ironically enough, though he is today known as one of the smooth crooners in music, Gay clashed a lot with Motown executives in his early years because he wanted to devote his focus to jazz. In Marvin’s earliest efforts with Tamla, the label did try to cater to his desires, allowing his debut album, Soulful Sounds, to be released in June 1961 with a combination of R&B and jazz songs on it. However, this album wasn’t well-received.
Eventually, after releasing three singles that were regionally popular and serving as a background drummer for some Motown groups and singers – such as (then-Little) Stevie Wonder and Martha and The Vandellas – Gay would get a shot with his fourth single, “Stubborn Kind of Fellow,” released in September 1962. This song would become Marvin’s first major hit, landing a spot on the Billboard Hot 100, and would ultimately serve as the springboard for his success.
Riding on the success of “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” as a single and album, Marvin would produce numerous strong singles the next two years, including “Pride & Joy” and “Can I Get a Witness,” and then would break the Billboard Top 10 in 1955 with the now timeless “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You).” Slowly but surely, Marvin began to gain a reputation for being a “ladies’ man,” and every ladies’ man needed a woman to complement him. In 1967, Motown would pair him with Tammi Terrell. Marvin and Tammi would be absolutely inseparable musically from then until Tammi’s untimely struggle with her health and eventual death in 1970. Marvin and Tammi would drop three duet albums and countless love ballads that are still priceless and often covered by contemporary artists, including “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “You’re All I Need to Get By,” and the original “If This World Were Mine” (which would reach official “They better play this song at my wedding” status after Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn covered it years later).
After taking time to personally deal with Tammi Terrell’s death, and fighting Motown for creative control of his music, Marvin would release his first big album in 1971, the concept album What’s Going On. Buoyed by the success of its strong title track – written in response to the Vietnam War – “Mercy, Mercy, Me (The Ecology),” and “Inner City Blues (Makes Me Wanna Holler)“, What’s Going On became a huge success and a landmark in soul music. After this album, Marvin’s future recordings gravitated towards a substantially more sensual nature. In 1973, Marvin would release this, which is no doubt largely responsible for the creation of many ’70s babies.
This song would become his lead single and also part of his next major album, also titled Let’s Get It On. Over the course of the next few years, Marvin would tour with Motown, until releasing his next smash solo album I Want You, in 1976, and the song “Got to Give It Up (Pt. I)” in 1977 (R&B singer Aaliyah would join with Slick Rick three decades later and jazz this song up a bit on a “Part II” of her own). He would battle drug addiction and divorce over the next few years, and these would influence less than stellar albums in 1979 and 1981. In 1982, however, Marvin would begin a “comeback” of sorts. He would drop the album Midnight Love, whose lead single “Sexual Healing” would definitely raise eyebrows and skirts (and no doubt contribute to the production of a number of early 80’s babies). And in 1983, Gaye would perform the National Anthem at the NBA All-Star Game in Inglewood, California. His version is often held in comparison with
pre-I wanna see the receipts pre-Bobby Brown pre-drug addiction Whitney Houston’s as one of the greatest of all time.
On April 1, 1984, Marvin would be fatally shot by his father after allegedly intervening in an argument between his parents. He was only 44.
Marvin embodied the spirit and soul of a generation in his music, a spirit and soul that is still enjoyed by countless audiences today. His contributions extended beyond music. Marvin was passionate about civil rights and even wore his hair bald to support Rubin “Hurricane” Carter’s trial at the time, or that he spoke out against violence in inner-city Chicago. So today, my dear thREADERS, we remember Marvin Gaye – the legend and the troubled soul with the heart of gold.