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date: 20 February 2020

Gaye [Gay], Marvin free

  • Rob Bowman

(b Washington, DC, April 2, 1939; d Los Angeles, April 1, 1984). American soul singer, drummer, songwriter and producer. He started singing professionally as a member of the Rainbows, a Washington-based doo-wop group. He subsequently joined the Marquees, who signed a recording contract with Chess Records and through which Gaye met the producer and vocalist Harvey Fuqua, joining his doo-wop group, the Moonglows. In 1960 Fuqua and Gaye moved to Detroit and were both signed to Motown Records. Gaye adopted the new spelling of his surname at this point and made solo recordings for the Motown subsidiary Tamla Records in the mould of a jazz-pop ballad singer. When these proved commercially unsuccessful, he recorded more youth-oriented rhythm and blues, first entering the charts with Stubborn Kind of Fellow in 1962. Most of his hits from this time were gospel-influenced dance tunes written by Gaye and Mickey Stevenson or one of a variety of other Motown songwriters. Beginning with Can I get a witness (1963) Gaye recorded several transitional hits written for him by Holland, Dozier and Holland. At the same time he sang a series of duets such as What's the matter with you baby (1964, with Mary Wells), It takes two (1967, with Kim Weston) and Ain't no mountain high enough (1967, with Tammi Terrell). During this period he also played the drums for a number of Motown sessions (including recordings by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and ‘Little’ Stevie Wonder) and co-wrote Martha and the Vandellas' 1964 hit Dancing in the Streets.

In the late 1960s Gaye made such seminal recordings as I heard it through the grapevine, Too busy thinking about my baby and That's the way love is, but after the death in 1970 of his duet partner, Tammi Terrell, he went into temporary seclusion. When he returned to recording he embarked on a new stage in his career, insisting on total artistic control of every aspect of his recordings. Inspired by Isaac Hayes's Hot Buttered Soul (Stax, 1969), he recorded the conceptually unified album What's going on (1971) in which he combined the percussive vogue of the early 1970s with a jazz sensibility and touches of classical string writing. His lyrics addressed a variety of social concerns, some specific to African Americans and others of universal relevance. In addition to the title song, Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) and Inner City Blues (Makes me wanna holla) were top ten pop and rhythm and blues hits. He subsequently produced similarly innovatory and complex material, some of which was uneven as he dealt with a number of personal and professional problems and a drug addiction. After signing with Columbia Records in 1982, he had a top ten hit with Sexual Healing. Shortly after this comeback he was shot by his father.


  • S. Davis: Marvin Gaye (London, 1984)
  • D. Ritz: Divided Soul: the Life of Marvin Gaye (New York, 1985)
  • D. Ritz: disc notes, Marvin Gaye Collection, Motown MOTD 4-6311 (1990)
  • D. Ritz: disc notes, The Master: 1961–84, Motown 31453 0492–4 (1995)